By Wendy Richards <email@example.com>
Submitted: April 2005
Summary: Lois can't stand by and let Clark be shot. So she intervenes to save his life — and gets hit herself by the bullet. Now he's mourning the only woman he will ever love, and she's… watching? Can an alien and a ghost find a way to be together?
Author's note: As always, I have people to thank. First, those wonderful FoLC at the Lois and Clark Fanfic Message Boards (http://lcficmbs.com) — you know who you are — who encouraged and nagged and posted wonderful, incredible feedback as I was posting this. To those who continued the nagging on IRC. And to those who provided instant feedback when offered samples of unposted sections. And most of all to beta-readers, formal and informal, who caught errors and made suggestions: Yvonne, Chris and Kaethel. Thanks, guys! Even if I didn't take all of your suggestions, I appreciated them enormously.
All rights to the series characters belong to DC Comics and Warner Bros. No infringement of copyright is intended by their use in this work of fiction, from which no profit is being or will be derived.
The first thing she noticed was the noise.
It seemed to come from somewhere far away, and yet it cut through her skull with the force of an axe. Voices. People shouting. Screaming. A loud, continuous bell, like an alarm. Sirens wailing. And one voice, somehow familiar, weeping and repeating one word over and over. "No. No, no, no, no. No!"
Then she became aware of the light. Harsh, over-bright, it hurt her eyes. She blinked, trying to adjust, and gradually she became accustomed to it and found that she could see more clearly. Yet, as with the sound, it felt as if she were looking through a haze. A smoky mirror, or a greasy lens too rarely cleaned.
There were people, lots of people, in what seemed to be a large room. Everyone's attention seemed to be concentrated on a small huddle on the floor. The lights were trained on the same spot. She saw men in uniform and recognised then as police officers.
As she watched, her attention was distracted by movement to the left. More men in uniform came through the door, their steps slow and exaggerated, as if she were watching the entire scene on video and someone had set the machine to slow motion. These, she somehow knew without being aware of the knowledge, were paramedics. They wheeled a gurney between them, and one carried a large red case.
Her gaze flicked back to the group on the floor. Now, the haze was clearing slightly and she could begin to make the figures out. One man bent, hunched, over a prone body, his hands rhythmically pummelling the person's chest. Again, the movements were exaggeratedly slow. Beside the body, another man knelt, head bowed, his whole body shaking. And then she knew that it was this man she'd heard. He was the one who was weeping. He was the one calling out to some unseen power or force, crying out the impossibility of whatever had happened.
"No! Please god, no! Not her… don't let her be dead! She can't be dead…"
The voice was still familiar, but it was like listening to an old, warped tape. His words emerged in a faintly mechanical, slow, groaning sound. She shook her head, unable to understand why everything was so indistinct. What was happening here? Why did she have this nagging sense that she should know where she was? That she should know who this man was?
The other man spoke. Again, she had to focus closely to make out the slurred words. "I'm sorry. There's nothing I can do. It's too late."
A cry so painful that she felt her heart being torn in two emerged from the man on the floor. He seemed to fold in upon himself, again so slowly that she could see every single movement. And his head rested upon the chest of the body on the floor.
Her gaze shifted past the grieving man, wondering who the dead woman was who had inspired so much devotion. His wife? His girlfriend?
She saw a red dress. Dark hair. And blood — large, frightening pools, on the floor and on the woman's body. The man's hands, gripping the woman's shoulders, were streaked with crimson.
The woman's face was pale, her eyes wide and staring sightlessly upward. But it wasn't the mingled surprise and agony on the woman's face which made her freeze. Which made her look again before recoiling in shock.
The face of the woman on the floor was her own.
She was dead.
She looked down at her hands. They were clean. Yet she *knew* that they had been covered in blood. She was still wearing the red dress. And it had a hole in it. She looked back at the corpse, and started to shake.
That really was her. And she was dead.
Now, she remembered it. Or some of it, anyway.
They'd been in a club. A gambling club… wait, the name was coming to her. Haircut, hairstyle… Hairdo! Georgie Hairdo; that was it. And they'd been there because… oh yeah. Someone had tipped her off that Al Capone might be there.
No. She shook her head, incredulity oozing from every pore. Every *dead* pore. Yeah, getting killed had really scrambled her brains. Or sent her back into the past. Or something weird like that. Al Capone was a gangster. Dated from the 1920s. No way he would've been walking the streets in the 1990s, much less going anywhere she and Clark were staking out.
Al Capone *had* been there. Or had he? Had she seen him somewhere else? She had vague, shadowy memories of him growling something about stiffs and morons who couldn't keep their guns in their pockets.
Guns. She remembered a gun. Somehow, that memory was all mixed up with something about a little old lady and a bucket of nickels. But that made no more sense than Al Capone being alive.
Indistinct images, like blurry silhouettes, danced elusively at the edge of her mind, almost close enough to touch. Tantalisingly close, but just far enough away that she couldn't make them out clearly.
A tableau. A man standing too close to a woman. His hands… his words… She felt the woman recoiling. Another man moving close, his expression… what? Angry? Concerned? She wished she could work out what was happening. Somehow she knew it was important.
And then a fuzzy figure in her peripheral vision. This one holding something… She felt herself freeze as she saw the gun in his hand. The gun which was pointed at something… some*one*. Someone she cared about.
A scream echoed, loud and terrified. She whirled around, looking for the source. And then she realised. The woman in the tableau was herself. And she was the one who had screamed.
A scream, followed immediately by the loud report of a gun. And lightning-fast movement, almost too quick for her to follow. The angry man stumbling, as if losing his balance. The woman — *herself* — crying out. Clutching at her chest. Pain. And falling…
..tumbling, folding, collapsing, into the darkness.
He was in his apartment. She'd tracked him there from the hospital and then the police precinct. Wherever he'd been, she'd been there watching him from a distance. For the past two hours, he'd been unlike she'd ever known him: grey, pale, his actions like an automaton, his voice cold and dead. And now he was alone and, she sensed, at the edge of his control.
At the hospital, he'd given her details to the orderly in a voice which was devoid of any emotion, an expression blank and empty. He'd repeated to the doctor the events which had led to Lois Lane being brought into the emergency room dead from a bullet-wound to the chest. And he'd then allowed the police officer who'd accompanied them to question him yet again about what had happened. She'd sensed his patience about to snap, and the iron control he'd been keeping on that patience.
Through the murky haze which clouded her vision, she'd seen him make a couple of phone calls. One to Perry White, which had brought the older man down to the hospital within minutes. The other to her mother. She'd seen him take Ellen Lane into his arms when she'd also arrived at the ER, heard him relate to her what had happened and then seen him sit with her until the doctor came out to speak to her and take her in to see her daughter.
She'd sensed his aching desire to follow her mother in, and somehow she'd understood it. If he'd been the one to die, she would have wanted to see him once the doctors could do no more for him — to convince herself that it really was all over, that she'd lost him. And to touch him one more time.
But he hadn't asked. He'd just crossed back to where Perry White had been sitting and said that he had to go to the precinct to give a formal statement. Perry had insisted on accompanying him, though she'd known from the tightness of her partner's jaw that he'd wanted to go alone.
And now, finally, he'd said goodbye to his unwanted escort and let himself into his apartment. She watched him, still shaken from the last words he'd said to Perry before the editor had eventually left.
"It was my fault, Perry. I got her killed. Now do you see why I want to be alone?"
"Clark, don't!" Perry had caught at his arm, his own eyes over- bright. "It wasn't your fault! You didn't pull the trigger."
The bitterness in Clark's voice had sliced through her heart. "I might as well have. If it hadn't been for me, she'd be alive now. How can I ever forgive myself for that?"
He'd flung himself out of Perry's car and walked, slowly, wearily, up the steps to his apartment, his clothes wrinkled and hair mussed and spiky. And then, once inside, had sunk onto the steps inside, his expression still blank, his eyes… His eyes haunted.
She'd followed him into the apartment. She hadn't been quick enough to go with him through the open door, and yet somehow the door had just given way as she'd approached it. She'd been there, standing behind him, ever since, thinking about what he'd said and what to do about it.
He blamed himself for her getting killed? But how could he possibly think that? It didn't make sense. But that was Clark all over, with his highly-overdeveloped sense of responsibility.
He'd been sitting there for more than twenty minutes now. Not moving, not speaking, barely even breathing. In that time, the mist had evaporated and she could see clearly instead of from a long way away.
She'd never, ever seen Clark like this. He was always the cheerful one, always willing to find a bright side in everything. Ever the optimist, while she was always the one to see the bottle half- empty.
He looked lost. As if he'd lost…
As if he'd lost his best friend.
And he had.
She remembered it all now with horrible clarity. As vividly as if the grisly tableau were playing out directly in front of her, she could see it happen. Dillinger messing with her. Trying to grope her. Clark rushing to her defence like the white knight he always was. And then Clyde Barrow suddenly appearing on the scene, gun in hand.
The frozen expression on the faces of those around when they realised he was going to shoot. The ice-cold fingers of fear closing around her heart when it dawned on her that his target was Clark.
And then moving, moving faster than she ever had in her life before. Turning to Clark. Shoving at him. Pushing him away, down, to the floor. Anything to get him out of the path of the bullet.
And suddenly a fiery pain to the side of her chest. Warm gushing over her hands as she clapped them to the source of the pain. And being overcome with weakness, falling to the floor, shouts around her dying out and becoming fainter…
Hands gripping her shoulders, a voice she'd never heard before and yet she somehow knew was Clark pleading with her, begging her, not to die…
But she'd died anyway. Her best friend hadn't been able to save her. Not this time.
She was dead. She should be feeling… what? Grief at having her life cut short? Regret for her actions, wanting to have those few split seconds back so that she could do something different? Anger at her murderer? Frustration, blazing rage for all she wasn't now going to be able to do? The additional Kerths she'd never win, the Pulitzers she'd never now get a chance at.
That one great love of her life, the one she stubbornly believed was still out there somewhere despite all the disappointments she'd had, which now she would never find.
Yet she was feeling none of that. She stood at the top of the steps leading down into Clark's apartment, her heart bleeding for her best friend. Tears streamed down her face as she watched him, wishing there was something she could do.
But she was here, wasn't she? How, she had no idea. She was dead. Clark, the doctors, the police officers, everyone had said so. She even remembered dying. So it really didn't make any sense that she was here, but right now that was so unimportant. All that mattered was that she was with Clark, and he needed her.
And, as she stood there, she knew that she regretted nothing. Sure, she was dead. But he was alive. She'd died to save him, and she would do it again in a heartbeat.
Galvanised, she dropped to the floor beside him. Stretched out her hand to him, reaching for his arm, to touch him and offer him comfort.
"Clark, I'm here." She spoke softly, her hand stroking along his shoulder and down his arm.
He didn't respond.
"Clark? It's me. Lois."
He took a deep, shuddering breath and she thought he was about to speak. But he didn't. Instead, he got to his feet, and her hand fell away. His feet dragging, he walked to the couch and slumped onto it, letting his head fall into his hands.
"Clark? Why did you walk away from me? Clark!"
He didn't raise his head.
She got up and walked over to him, standing in front of him. "Clark? Clark, look at me!"
Still, he didn't move. She reached for him again, catching his hands in hers. He didn't move at all, didn't return her grasp, didn't look up at her. His hands lay limply beneath hers.
And then his body shook, and she realised he was sobbing. "Lois… oh, god, Lois!" The words escaped him like a cry.
"I'm here, Clark!" She tried to squeeze his hands again, but once again he didn't respond.
She didn't understand. He was calling to her, wasn't he? He was crying over *her*! So why wasn't he glad to see her?
He moved, his hands dropping away from hers as he leaned towards the end of the sofa. He grabbed the phone, tugging it onto his lap, and hit a couple of numbers.
"Mom? Sorry to call you so late. I… needed to talk to you and Dad." The pain in his voice made her ache for him.
There was silence for a few moments. She couldn't hear the voice on the other end of the line. Then Clark spoke again. "It's Lois… she's dead."
"But I'm here, Clark!" she exclaimed. "I may be dead, but I'm right here! Okay, I don't understand it either, but that's not important, is it? I'm here!"
He ignored her. "We were out tonight, undercover. And… well, it's a long story and I'll tell you all some other time, but we were after these gangsters." A pause while he listened. "Oh, you saw the news reports? Yes, them. And they arrived. One of them started hitting on Lois, and I told him to leave her alone."
Clark got to his feet, tucking the phone base under his arm, and began to pace. She got the impression that he wasn't even aware that he was doing it. His gaze was unfocused, his steps aimless as he continued talking.
Lois moved in front of him as he paced, trying to block his path. Trying to force him to acknowledge her. Again, he looked straight though her.
And, as she watched in incredulity, he *walked* straight past her.
One moment he was right in front of her, staring her in the face as he listened to whichever of his parents was on the phone. And the next he was behind her. Yet he hadn't stepped around her; she was certain of that.
The really strange thing was that she'd felt something a bit like a faint breeze. For one second, she'd shivered as if a cold wind had brushed past her.
And then she realised. Clark hadn't just walked past her. He'd walked *through* her.
Now it all made sense. He wasn't ignoring her. He had no idea that she was there at all!
She'd wondered how she could be here with him given she was dead. And now she knew. She was a ghost. Insubstantial as a breath of wind. No, even less substantial: Clark would feel wind. He couldn't feel her presence at all.
But she'd been able to touch him!
Or had she? Had she actually felt the warmth of his hand when she'd rested hers on it? Had she felt anything at all? Or had it just been her imagination?
She walked up to him again, raising her hand to his face and pressing hard. And her fingers seemed to melt, as if she were trying to grasp steam.
No, she couldn't feel him either.
A ghost. That was all she was. Somehow trapped between life and… well, the permanence of death, she guessed. Somehow her spirit had got left behind. But why? So she could see how much pain her death had caused? So that she would cry along with Clark, but be completely unable to comfort him — or be comforted by him?
She trembled, a lump growing in her throat.
"So another one of them took out his gun and fired. He was aiming at me. Oh god, that's the awful thing! He was aiming at me, but Lois… she pushed me out of the way. She was trying to save me. But she got killed instead."
As her attention switched back to Clark, he took another shuddering breath and ran one hand through his hair, rumpling it further. The hand holding the receiver clenched and loosened, as if he couldn't possibly keep even that still.
He was hurting so much. She wanted to comfort him. To take him into her arms just as he always did when she needed him. To hold his hand and stroke his hair and tell him that she was there for him and that she'd make the pain go away.
Except that he couldn't see her. Or hear her. Or even feel her. To him, she wasn't here at all. And it was killing her all over again to see his pain and be unable to do anything to comfort him.
"Oh, Clark," she whispered. Tears trickling down her cheeks again, she fell to the sofa and simply sat watching him.
His mom was speaking, but Clark was no longer hearing her words. All he could see was that split second in the club. Over and over again, it played in his mind. He scrunched his eyes closed, but still couldn't rid himself of the gut-wrenching, nightmarish image.
The fight. The gun. And Lois shoving him out of the way. Placing herself in the firing-line.
Lois stepping in front of a bullet — for him.
Why would she do it? Why would she be so stupid — so *reckless*?
<Why would she have done it?> he corrected himself mentally, dully.
It was such a crazy thing to do! Apart from anything else, if the bullet had hit him he wouldn't have been hurt. Wouldn't have died. He was invulnerable, for heaven's sake!
Though Lois didn't know — hadn't known that…
His fist clenched around the receiver again, and he became aware that his mom was calling his name.
"Clark? Are you still there, honey?"
He inhaled deeply. He was crying again. He had to stop that. "Yeah. I'm just… I'm not sure I can talk about this any more right now."
Her sympathy and concern for him was almost tangible through the phone-line. "That's understandable. Do you want to come out here?"
Did he? It was tempting. Physical and emotional comfort from the two people who knew him best, whom he could actually talk to about why he couldn't help but blame himself for Lois getting killed. He *should* have been able to save her. He should have been fast enough to do something. Whatever else, he should never have let her push him aside. He was *Superman*, for god's sake! How the hell had she been able to make him move?
What use was he if he could let his best friend get killed right in front of him?
But moping around in Smallville wasn't going to help, and certainly not when there was still something he could do for Lois.
"Thanks, Mom, but I won't. Not right now, anyway. I feel like I want to do something, you know? And it'd be more useful if I tried to track down Lois's killers."
"That makes sense," his dad said. "But, Clark?"
"We know you. Don't start blaming yourself, you hear? This wasn't your fault."
"Oh, no?" He couldn't stop the bitterness leaking into his tone. "I should never have let her push me out of the way. Hell, I should have got her out of there before Barrow even drew his gun."
"And just how would you have done that without letting everyone in the room know that you're Superman?"
His dad was right, but still… "Maybe that's what I should have done."
"You know all the reasons why that would've been a bad idea, honey," his mom pointed out.
"Yes, and even if you'd got Lois out of the way someone else might have been killed."
"Okay, I'm obsessing." Clark sighed heavily. "I *know* that. But there has to be something I could have done…"
"Hindsight's a wonderful thing, sweetie." Her voice was gentle, offering the comfort he wasn't ready to accept. "You can't keep torturing yourself."
He shouldn't. But he probably would. At any rate, he couldn't see himself getting any sleep at all tonight. He knew that as soon as he closed his eyes he'd start reliving the scene in the club over and over, each time despairing as he failed to save Lois. Each time dying a little himself as he saw her body jerk with the impact of the bullet and then tumble to the floor.
*Why* had she done it? Why let herself be shot instead of him? He still couldn't understand it. Of course, she hadn't known that he was Superman. Hadn't known he was invulnerable, that he couldn't be hurt by a simple bullet. If she had known, then…
He should have told her. It wasn't as if he'd never thought about telling her — she was his best friend and his partner, and there were so many reasons why it would have been useful to have her know. Yet there had never seemed to be a right time — or, perhaps, he'd never quite had the courage to tell her. Now, because he hadn't told her, she was dead.
"Look, I'm going to… get on with a few things," he told his parents. "Thanks for the talk, okay?"
"You're welcome, sweetie. You call us tomorrow, you hear?"
"I will, I promise."
He ended the call, then raked a hand through his hair again. Talking to his parents had helped a little, but the feeling that he'd lost an essential part of himself just refused to go away. Because he had. Lois had meant everything to him. She was the bright star in his life, the person who could make his heart beat faster just by smiling at him.
And now she was dead. Gone forever.
Soon, he would go out and try to find Capone and the other gangsters. The police were looking for them, too, but Superman could help. And it would give him something useful to do.
But first… He crossed through his bedroom and went out onto the balcony. It was well after midnight and few of the city lights remained bright. Street-lights and traffic signals shone dully, while most of the surrounding buildings were in darkness. It was a cloudy night and, in the absence of stars and any sight of the moon, the sky was dark, dull and cold.
A gloomy, chilly night, with even some rain in the air. It just suited his mood.
He leaned on the balcony rail, staring ahead yet unfocused. Lois was dead. It wasn't fathomable. Even though he'd seen it happen with his own eyes, he couldn't come to terms with it. How could such a vibrant, energetic person be dead? How could it be possible that he would never see her again? That he'd walk into the newsroom every morning and not find her waiting for him, tapping her fingers impatiently on the surface of her desk because she needed him to listen to her latest idea *right now*?
That she would never again grin at him in absolute joy because a story had just come together? That she would never again call him 'Farmboy' in that half-teasing, half-scathing way she had whenever he did something to irritate her? That he'd never hear that quicksilver laugh again, or see her eyes sparkle the way they did when she was happy or excited.
He would never again have her touch him in the affectionate way he'd become used to from her: a hand on his shoulder if she was standing behind him reading his screen, or her palm against his chest when she was telling him something. Or linking her arm with his when they walked. If they were walking home together after a pizza or the movies, the way she'd butt her hips against his to reinforce her superiority in whatever they were arguing about at the time.
And she would never again arrive on his doorstep unexpectedly, barging into the apartment demanding to watch movies with him or because she had a *brilliant* idea which she simply had to share with him, or just because she wanted to talk. He'd never again get to sit beside her on his sofa, wrapping his arm around her shoulders because she was sleepy and wanted to lie back against him for support.
His apartment had been a home when she'd been with him, filling the space with life and vibrance. Now it was just an empty space. She wasn't here. She wouldn't be here ever again.
In one lousy second, he'd lost his partner, his best friend and the only woman he'd ever loved. He'd been standing right beside her. And he hadn't been able to save her. What use was he? What use was Superman?
"Oh, Lois, how am I going to live without you?" How was he going to bear the agony? "I love you so much," he whispered. "I will always love you."
He *loved* her?
A lump in her throat again, Lois stared at Clark. He was leaning his elbows on the balcony rail, gazing out into the night. Somehow she knew he wasn't seeing anything in front of him.
Now the full depth of his pain made sense. He wasn't just mourning his best friend. He wasn't just feeling some sort of crazy farmboy-with-a-superhero-complex guilt because she'd got killed saving his life. He was devastated because he'd been in love with her.
Why hadn't he told her? Why had she not known he felt that way about her?
But he had told her. She slumped against the wall at the rear of the balcony and slid down to the ground as the memory she'd tried her best to bury came back to her. During the time she referred to as her month of insanity, when she'd actually managed to get engaged to the biggest criminal the country had ever known, Clark *had* told her that he loved her. He'd taken it back later, but she'd never quite been sure whether to believe him or not.
He'd certainly wanted her to believe it, though. So she'd accepted his denial and followed his lead in getting their lives, and their friendship, back to normal. It had suited her, too; she'd had enough to deal with in coming to terms with how crassly idiotic she'd been. For weeks, there'd been new revelations of Lex's criminality almost every day, and each time something else had come to light she'd cringed all over again. Had hated herself for the way she'd taken the word of a gangster and mass murderer over that of her friends. Especially Clark.
But she'd still known her own feelings. Known, from the morning of her wedding to another man, who she really loved. Not Luthor — never. Not even Superman, even though she'd been convinced for so long that he was the only man she would ever want to be with. Clark. She loved Clark.
She'd never said anything. She'd figured that he needed time to get over her betrayal, and anyway she'd been in no hurry herself to rush into another relationship. They'd had plenty of time, she'd decided. After all, they worked together at the best newspaper in Metropolis, if not in the entire country. Where else would either of them go? And, as long as they saw each other at work every day, and spent most of their free time together too, she never had to worry about him meeting someone else. Even though that new assistant DA was irritating, she'd never felt seriously threatened by Mayson Drake.
She hadn't bargained on one of them getting killed.
Now, she was a ghost and Clark was grieving and they'd lost their chance to be together. Forever.
Someone was really enjoying messing with her life. Or her death. She couldn't just be dead. No; she had to be a ghost, condemned to watch life going on without her in it. To watch her best friend grieve her death — and to discover, too late, how he really felt about her. Did this happen to everyone who died, or was she being singled out here?
Seeing Clark like this was so painful. He was still leaning against the rail, his jaw tense, his face almost grey. He hadn't moved for several minutes. And, as she watched, she saw a single tear trickle down from under his glasses.
Why did she have to be here, watching him and unable to comfort him? What sort of sick joke was this?
Though maybe she didn't have to be here. She hadn't tried to be anywhere other than with Clark, had she? So she could go home, if she wanted, couldn't she?
Yeah, right. Home to an empty apartment, full of reminders of her *life*. Of when she'd been alive and not a ghost.
She could go to be with her mother. Or Perry. Or anyone else who'd known her. But none of those options appealed either. What use was being with anyone if they didn't know she was there?
If she were the type of ghost anyone could see or hear, she could go and haunt her killers. That would be something useful, and it would make her feel a little better about being dead. Maybe.
No. Even if he couldn't see her. Even if there was nothing she could do. Even if seeing his grief was breaking her heart over and over. At least Clark *cared*. He loved her — *had* loved her — in a way that no-one ever had before. And she loved him. Why else had she risked her life to save him?
No. Even if she could be anywhere else, she didn't want to be anywhere other than with Clark.
Clark was moving. Lois shifted to an upright position against the wall, then scrambled to her feet. He'd straightened, his shoulders back and his expression determined.
And then he whirled. Spun around in the confined space where he was standing. He was circling so fast that he actually became a blur. And then he slowed, and she couldn't believe her eyes as she saw what — who — was standing in front of her.
Reality splintered before her eyes. What she thought she'd known lay in scattered, useless shards. The new truth was right in front of her, so close she could touch it. Touch *him*.
A him she'd never known existed. A superhero in farmboy clothing.
Jaw slack, Lois could only stare.
What more bizarreness was going to happen tonight?
She was a ghost — and she didn't even believe in ghosts! And now Clark — Clark, her best friend, the guy she always teased about being a farmboy — was Superman!
Clark was Superman. He was her best friend, and he'd never told her. All this time, they'd worked beside each other, gone on stakeouts together, watched movies at his place hundreds of times, gone to games together, spent most of their waking hours in each other's company. She thought they'd told each other everything. She'd certainly told him things she'd never, ever told anyone else.
He'd never told her this. Never even hinted at it.
How could he say he loved her? When he didn't even trust her?
The sting of betrayal, like an icy-steel knife, twisted inside her. This hurt. Unwanted tears pricked at her eyes again, and she felt herself sag. Unable to take her eyes off Clark in Superman's suit, her heart fracturing into tiny fragments, Lois couldn't prevent a sob escaping.
A movement caught her attention. Clark was airborne. He was already flying over the rail, away from her, his expression bleak against the night sky.
Suddenly, she didn't want to be alone. No matter how much his lack of trust hurt, she needed to be with Clark. Even if he didn't even know she was there. Being dead was horrible enough; being alone in this ghostly awareness, this walking, living death, would be…
But he was flying. How could she possibly follow him?
And then she realised that she was in the air, too. Soaring over the buildings right behind Clark.
She hadn't even tried to follow him! She'd just wished that she could… and now she was gliding through the night with no effort at all on her part. As if she were being held up by some invisible threads and being towed along behind Clark.
Now *he* was flying. She could see the subtle indications that he was directing his path and speed; little movements of his arms or wrists, a slight turn of his ankle — the kind of steering actions people made when they were swimming, but far less obvious.
He seemed to be looking for something. He was methodically covering sections of the city bit by bit, pausing every so often to hover over a building or an area, gazing downwards as if he were examining the cityscape below him through a microscope. Of course, he probably was. He had X-ray vision and the ability to magnify what he saw many hundreds of times.
But she had no idea what he was looking for. And that frustrated her. She'd worked alongside him for a year and a half! She ought to know his methods, his thought processes, his instincts inside out by now. She'd thought she did. They'd developed an almost uncanny ability to read each other, to know what the other thought they should do even before it was said out loud. She should have known him well enough to figure out what he was up to.
Of course, the reason she didn't know was staring her directly in the face. She'd thought she knew everything there was to know about Clark Kent. What a joke. The red and blue Spandex right in front of her made a mockery of her certainty.
Clark Kent didn't know how lucky he was. If she wasn't invisible to him, inaudible to him, she'd let him know exactly how she felt about his lies, his deceit. By the time she was finished with him he'd be grateful that she was dead.
Dead. Everything around her faded away as the truth dawned. She was dead because she'd pushed Clark out of the way of a bullet which would have hit him. Would have killed him. And instead it had hit and killed her.
Only it wouldn't have killed Clark. He was Superman. He was invulnerable. Nothing but Kryptonite could kill him.
She hadn't saved his life at all.
She'd died for nothing.
Capone and his cohorts knew how to make themselves hard to find. He'd been searching for almost an hour so far and was still coming up with a big fat zero. With any other villain, he'd suspect lead shielding or something along those lines, but he'd seen how these resurrected gangsters had reacted to Superman. They'd been disbelieving when bullets had bounced off him. And when he'd taken flight they'd acted as if they were seeing things. Unless they'd done an awful lot of research in the meantime, they didn't know enough about him to protect themselves from him.
Which was good. Because he didn't intend to give up until they were safely in custody and Clyde Barrow was charged with Lois's murder.
It wouldn't even begin to compensate for all he'd lost tonight. But seeing Barrow behind bars and facing a life sentence in prison would give him some small sense of satisfaction. It would allow him to feel that at least he'd done something for Lois.
The story of her murder would be on the front page of tomorrow's Planet. In fact, the early editions were probably already on the street. He didn't want to see it. Not yet. He wasn't ready to read about Lois's death in black and white. Didn't want to see a photograph of her on the front page, vibrant and beautiful as he knew — had known — her to be. Didn't want to read the obituary Perry had said he was going back to the newsroom to write.
Perry had asked him if he wanted to contribute to the obit, to include some of his own memories of Lois both as a reporter and as a friend. But he'd refused. He wasn't ready for that yet. In time, yes, he would want to contribute his own thoughts and recollections about her, in whatever forum was appropriate. But not now. The pain was too raw, too new.
He didn't even want to think about going into work in the morning. Picking up the threads of their current investigations — the gangsters, the latest rumours of scandal on the city council, their long-running research into Intergang — without Lois working alongside him. Partnerless, for the first time in over a year.
There was so much he'd miss about working with Lois. Her acute intellect. Her sharp wit. Her sudden flashes of inspiration. The way she could piece together seemingly-disparate clues and come up with a solution out of nowhere. Her habit of reaching and arriving at bizarre conclusions, some of which actually happened to be dead right.
There would be reminders of her everywhere in the newsroom. Everywhere in the city. Even in his own apartment. There was a sweatshirt in his bottom drawer he'd lent her to sleep in the last time they'd watched videos until late in the night and she'd been too tired to drive home. It still carried her scent.
Could he even bear to stay -
What was that?
There. Directly below, in that old warehouse… yes, he thought he'd recognised that blonde hair! And where Bonnie Parker was the others couldn't be far away. He dropped down to hover over the building — Old North Road, he observed. A couple of seconds' study confirmed for him that everyone he wanted was there. All four gangsters were present and correct, and armed, of course. There was another man, too, apparently confined to a sectioned-off room full of lab equipment. That had to be their pet scientist, the man who had somehow brought the gangsters back to life in the first place.
Clark's lips twisted. He couldn't wait to get his hands on the man. What kind of idiot was he? Was he insane? He obviously needed to be locked up for his own good. Why on earth had he thought it was a good idea to resurrect dangerous, ruthless criminals like those? Who was his next target? Lex Luthor?
Bile rose in Clark's throat. This so-called scientist — Emil Hamilton, he and Lois had figured out — was responsible for Lois's death. If he'd never meddled with DNA and cloning in the first place, then none of this would have ever happened. No resurrected murdering gangsters. No need for either of them to visit a speakeasy to find Al Capone. No Dillinger to hit on Lois. And no Clyde Barrow to murder her.
As he was about to swoop down into the warehouse, a payphone on the corner caught his eye. Perfect. Nothing like a bit of police backup when criminals needed to be taken into custody.
The police would also be necessary protection, of course — protection for the gangsters. He didn't want to find out if he could trust himself not to tear Barrow limb from limb or use him as a javelin and throw him towards the moon. Nothing would be too harsh for the man who'd deprived Lois of life. But he couldn't do that. Not even though every impulse in his body screamed at him to extract revenge for Lois's murder. It wasn't his place.
It was all too easy in the end. Though, of course, Capone and his fellow mobsters hadn't a clue how to deal with Superman. Seconds after bursting into the warehouse, Clark had the four of them trussed up and ready for Henderson to take away. Then it was time to deal with Hamilton.
Three swift paces took him to the entrance to the makeshift laboratory. The door was locked, but one quick wrench took care of that. He flung the door wide and immediately saw Hamilton cowering in a corner, arms wrapped protectively about himself.
"You'd better come out of there," Clark said, unable to keep the coldness out of his voice.
Hamilton's head shot up. An expression of supreme relief came over his face. "Superman! Oh, thank god! I thought I'd never get out of here!"
Clark gestured for the scientist to exit the laboratory. "It's safe out there. Your clones are all tied up and the police are on their way." He looked away and his gaze fell on the assortment of vats, tubes, chemicals and other paraphernalia in the room, and his lip curled. How could anyone be so irresponsible as to resurrect dead people…
Resurrect. Dead. People.
Lois. Lois. Was… A. Dead. Person.
His breath caught. He tuned out everything around him as he focused on the faint whisper of hope which had just crawled into his brain.
Slowly, he turned and faced Hamilton again. "Could your technique work —-"
He broke off. Hamilton had rushed towards the largest vat. As Clark watched in dawning horror, the professor pushed it over and into a collection of tubes, glass bottles and other assorted equipment. Before he could even blink, there was a minor explosion.
"Good riddance to that!" Hamilton exclaimed. He grabbed a document of some sort and threw it onto the flames.
"Wait! What are you doing?" Clark strode over and pulled the other man back. He stared helplessly at the mess, frantically trying to work out what he could do to fix it. "You've destroyed it!"
"Yes! Of course! Don't you see? I was so wrong! I should never have done this! Now no-one else can do what I did." He turned and smiled up at Clark. "See? I've burned my manuscript too. No-one else can follow my technique."
Clark bit back an agonised scream. "But -"
But what? What could he say? What could *Superman* say? That he wanted to make his own clone?
Angry, frustrated, *devastated*, he closed his eyes. His shoulders slumped. It had been a crazy idea, anyway. The idea of a desperate man. Did he really want a clone Lois? Was he so unable to come to terms with the fact that she was dead that he'd be willing to interfere with nature to that degree? What right did he have to do that?
He had no right to do that — no right even to contemplate it. And how would the clone-Lois feel if he'd managed to do it? What would she think of him? How would she feel about being an exact copy of someone else? That she only *existed* as a replacement for someone else?
Hamilton's actions made perfect sense. Of course it did. Destroying everything was absolutely the right thing to do. Clark couldn't argue with that.
Slowly, he released Professor Hamilton and moved away from the scene of destruction, ushering the man out into the front of the warehouse to wait for the police. The small fire in the laboratory would burn itself out; he didn't need to take care of it in any way. And it was right that no-one else should be able to clone irresponsibly.
Except that, for one wonderful, unbelievable second, he'd thought there was a way he could have Lois back.
Painful reality had come crashing back down only too quickly. That was never going to happen. Nothing could change the fact that Lois was dead.
Bitterness tainted the satisfaction Lois felt as she watched the police bundle the gangsters into their van. Sure, her murderer was going to face justice. But it changed nothing. She had still lost her life. She was still stuck in this limbo somewhere between life and… nothingness.
Watching Superman in action, knowing that he was Clark, had been a revelation. She'd known, of course, what Superman was capable of. She'd seen him use his powers many times. But seeing *Clark* use them was so very different. This was her partner, the ordinary guy, the farmboy from Kansas she'd worked beside for well over a year. This was her best friend. This was the man who was mourning her death.
This was her Clark who was also Superman.
She'd had a lot of time to think while he'd been searching the city and she'd had nothing to do apart from follow him around. It was all very well being mad at him for never telling her the truth about himself. She even had a right to be pretty fed up that she'd got herself killed saving someone who hadn't needed to be saved. But it had slowly dawned on her that this had never been a straightforward situation.
Why had he never told her? That had been her first, wounded, angry question. Obviously he hadn't trusted her. Hadn't really seen her as his best friend; not the way she'd considered him her very dearest, closest, indispensable friend. And that also meant that he couldn't possibly love her. Not the way he'd claimed, either back when she was seeing Lex or an hour or so ago out on his balcony.
But then rationality had started to temper her initial hurt, furious leap to conclusions. Why would Clark tell her? Had he ever told anyone about himself? What were the consequences of his secret getting out? What had he to fear about *her* in particular finding out that he was Superman? How, in fact, had she reacted to Superman ever since she'd met him, in contrast to her reaction to Clark?
She'd had a huge crush on Superman right from the moment she'd first encountered him. Had imagined herself in love with him — and had rubbed her feelings for his alter ego in Clark's face far more times than any friend should. She'd made clear her preference for Superman. Had compared the two men on many occasions, with Clark coming up wanting. Had even rejected Clark's declaration of love, only to follow it with her own declaration of love to Superman.
No wonder he'd never told her. No wonder he obviously hadn't thought he had any reason to.
What *was* a wonder was that he had still been her friend. Still cared about her. Still *loved* her.
Because she hadn't deserved him.
And, once she'd pushed aside her initial gut reaction, she'd known that she could not doubt that he'd loved her. Still loved her. His grief was unmistakable. And, knowing *Clark* so well, she'd noticed that Superman's expression hadn't changed from the grimness she'd seen as he'd taken off from his apartment. His eyes had been dull, even when speaking to Henderson and handing over his prisoners.
There'd also been that very strange interlude when he'd seemed to be fighting with that mad scientist over the cloning equipment. As if he hadn't wanted Hamilton to destroy it. Though that didn't make sense. Clark had to feel exactly the way she did about that — that the cloning had been a terrible, criminal mistake, for which Hamilton deserved to be held accountable. Surely now it would be obvious to anyone that cloning was a crazy idea? Especially using it as a means of bringing people back to life…
Could that be what Clark had been thinking? Had he been imagining bringing *her* back to life?
If she'd been alive, her heart would surely have stopped beating.
Clark could have resurrected her! She could have had her life back! She could have had another chance to do things right this time… including her relationship with Clark.
But that wasn't going to happen. She'd seen the scientist destroy his equipment. And she'd seen the stricken, devastated expression on Clark's face as he'd watched.
He was in the air again. And, without any conscious effort at all on her part, she was following him. What was that? Maybe she really was tied to him, somehow. Maybe she was flying because he could fly. That had to be it. It was all one horrible cosmic joke. She was cursed to be Clark's invisible shadow. And it was a curse. Being forced to be with the man she loved, unable to talk to him, to touch him, even to have him know that she was there…
Within seconds, they were both landing on the balcony of his apartment. He walked into his bedroom; she was right behind him. He spun again and in less than the blink of an eye was standing there dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. Superman's suit had simply disappeared.
How the heck did he *do* that?
And there he was. Clark, dressed in exactly the same style as she'd seen him on so many non-work occasions. Superman really was an ordinary man.
The same ordinary man she'd rejected all those months ago. The same ordinary man whom she'd told she'd still love if he *were* just an 'ordinary man'. No wonder he'd told her he couldn't believe her.
He'd crossed to his nightstand. Getting ready for bed, she assumed, and part of her felt awkward. She shouldn't be here. She was invading his privacy — had already invaded it in far too many ways. And if he was about to prepare for sleep -
But he was opening the nightstand drawer. Taking something out. She moved closer to see what he was holding. It was a framed photograph — the same photograph which she had in a frame in her own apartment.
The two of them together at the Kerth Awards. Her hair up, with strands loosely trailing around her shoulders. The long dress she was wearing complemented Clark's tuxedo perfectly. And he looked magnificent. Tall, broad-shouldered, lean and handsome. A brilliant smile on his face as he held his award and gazed down at the woman on his arm.
It was as if she were seeing his face in that photograph for the first time. The expression in his eyes as he looked at her was unmistakable. How could she not have known that he still loved her?
His finger traced her face through the glass. "Oh, Lois…"
The lump was back, making it impossible for her to swallow. How unfair was this! She couldn't just be dead, could she? She had to be here, watching her best friend in agony without being able to do one *damn* thing to comfort him!
Of course, if she'd known he was Superman she wouldn't have been dead in the first place…
The painful lump had a bitter taste.
She stepped backwards, wanting to put some distance between herself and the pain on Clark's face. Not looking where she was going, she stumbled and fell. And, as she scrambled to her feet again, her hand closed around something solid. A shoe.
She pulled a face as she waited for her fingers to melt right through it. But they didn't.
Wait… now she could touch things?
What was this? Some sort of ghost-apprenticeship where she learned the skills on the job? First, just being there; then learning how to follow your target around; then being able to pick things up so you could start to haunt him more effectively? She shook her head. This was insane.
But… Her bitter mood began to evaporate as a thought occurred to her. This had possibilities.
She glanced quickly around the room. How could she attract his attention? And then her gaze fell on the perfect item. She'd wondered where that had got to. It must have fallen onto the floor that morning she'd come to pick Clark up for an early meeting and, because she'd had a coffee at his place, she'd gone into his bedroom to touch up her lipstick at his dressing-table.
The question was, would she be able to use it? Her hand inched towards it. And her fingers closed around it without melting through it. Partial success. And that felt good. Now, all she had to do was uncap it and use it.
The process was fiddly at first. Ghost-fingers, for some reason, weren't as flexible or as dexterous as her human ones had been. But after a few seconds the cap was off and she was ready. The mirror was the perfect palate.
She hadn't even thought about what she'd write, but the words just came to her.
CLARK KENT, YOU ARE SO DEAD.
Lois winced immediately. Bad choice of words. *She* was dead. And she had absolutely no doubt whatsoever about the sincerity of Clark's grief. Or the depth of it.
She hesitated, looking around for something to wipe it off with. But Clark was already looking over in the direction of the mirror. And he was staring in utter disbelief.
Gripping the lipstick tightly, she prepared to write another line.
"Who's there?" Clark was striding to the dressing-table now, peering around intently as he searched for the writer of the messages. "Is this some sort of a joke?
Then he halted, frowning. She knew why. She was writing again, directly underneath her first line. And, from Clark's perspective, the words were just appearing on the mirror, as if by magic.
I'M SORRY I SHOULDN'T HAVE SAID THAT.
"Who's doing this?" Now he sounded angry. A tiny tic was working in his jaw and he tugged at his glasses. That was a habit Lois was very familiar with. It was something she'd seen Clark do so many times that it was as much *him* as was the blue cotton shirt he wore sometimes when not at work, or the bad puns she pretended to hate so much. A nervous habit, she'd assumed. Something he was barely aware that he did, she'd thought. Now, though, it had new meaning as she watched him scan the area around the dressing-table with great care and attention… looking over the rim of his glasses as he did so.
X-ray vision. And, obviously, it didn't work through his glasses.
He was pacing around as well, and using his hands to feel the empty air around him. Odd that he would consider looking for someone he couldn't see — but then, maybe not. After all, one of their first stories together had involved a gang of invisible bank robbers. The secret had been suits designed to render the wearers completely invisible. If she remembered correctly, even Superman hadn't been able to see them.
She skipped out of the way as he came very close to brushing against her. For all she knew, his hand might pass right through her, but just in case it didn't she wasn't anxious for him to touch her. It wasn't as if she could talk to him to explain her presence, and she didn't want him accidentally throwing her over his balcony or anything.
He sighed and then turned back to the mirror, watching it in apparent expectation. Okay. Well, she hadn't exactly given him a lot to go on. But neither had she left herself much space on the mirror. Reaching out, she tried to clean a corner with her hand, but only ended up making a mess.
Clark moved. He disappeared into the bathroom, returning a moment later with a towel which he used to clean the mirror. When he'd finished, it still retained a reddish sheen, but at least she could write on it.
He stood back and waited.
She thought, then wrote.
I'M HERE, CLARK. I'M DEAD, BUT I'M HERE
He stared at what she'd written, and she could actually hear his breath catch. And she saw the precise moment when the penny dropped. His eyes widened and, when he spoke, unbelievably, his voice shook.
Even as he heard himself say her name, he knew it was impossible.
Lois couldn't be here. How could she possibly be the one writing on his mirror? She was dead! He'd seen her murdered right in front of him.
He looked away and rubbed his hands over his eyes.
His grief over her death was getting to him. Making him insane. Now he was seeing things which weren't even there. That had to be it. He was imagining this. There wasn't really anything written on his mirror.
Sighing, he looked back at the mirror. The words still stared back at him. The letters bright red. Slashes of blood across the glass.
Slashes of blood across his hands, her dress, her body, the floor…
He blinked and felt himself shaking. He was cracking up. Oh god… He covered his eyes with his hands and made himself take deep breaths. One. Two. More. And then he opened his eyes and allowed himself to look at the mirror again.
Crimson writing still stared back at him.
I'M HERE, CLARK. I'M DEAD, BUT I'M HERE
No. No, it couldn't be. How could it be?
How could she possibly be dead and yet writing on his mirror?
And, as he watched, a lipstick moved in front of him and letters appeared as if out of nowhere.
IT'S ME. I THINK I'M A GHOST
"What?" This was getting crazier by the second. Shaking his head, he muttered, "I'm dreaming. That's the only explanation for any of this."
Like lightening, another message appeared on his mirror.
IF YOU'RE DREAMING THEN SO AM I
He turned away. Lois was dead. This… whatever it was… was insane. The product of either his delusional mind or some deranged sadist. But then his sensitive ears picked up the sound of squeaking. It was real. Someone was messing with his mind. And whoever it was hadn't given up yet.
I WISH I COULD TALK TO YOU. THEN YOU'D BELIEVE ME
He crossed his arms and glared at the mirror. "Prove it to me. If you're Lois, you'll know how to convince me."
Even though he'd refused to let himself believe it was possible, he felt his heart sink. Whatever was going on here, Lois hadn't returned, as a ghost or anything else. She was *dead*. When was he going to accept that?
And then he noticed that something — someone? — was holding the towel against the mirror, trying to erase some of the writing. With one stride, he was there, grabbing the towel and wiping furiously, using his heat vision to melt the lipstick a little to make it easier to remove.
Then he stepped back and waited.
WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO SAY?
Yeah, right. More evidence that this wasn't Lois. She'd never been lost for words in her life.
Then more words appeared.
IF IT'S NOT LEAD-LINED, DON'T BOTHER
His heart skipped a beat. He'd said that to Lois once. Well, *Clark* hadn't. But Superman had. And, as far as he knew, no-one else knew about that conversation. Only Lois. But, if Lois had really written it, that meant she knew he was Superman.
How long had she known?
Had she known tonight? His blood chilled. She couldn't have known he was Superman when she'd pushed him out of the way. Could she? But if she had, why would she have done it? Why would she have pretty much committed suicide when she'd known that he couldn't be killed?
Maybe she hadn't known then. Maybe she'd only found out afterwards. Was that why she'd written that first thing?
COME ON FARMBOY! SAY SOMETHING
He blinked. Impossible as it seemed, as much as his brain was trying to tell him that it couldn't be so, it *had* to be Lois. The rational side of him finally began to accept what his heart had wanted to believe all along.
"Lois?" He heard his voice crack. "Is it really you?"
YES. IT'S ME
He felt himself sag, and dropped his hands onto the dressing-table to prop himself up. Lois was really here. He couldn't see her. He couldn't hear her. And, seemingly, he couldn't touch her. But she was here.
"Oh, god! How is this even possible?"
I DON'T KNOW
"Can you talk?" he asked.
YOU DON'T HEAR ME. I'VE BEEN TRYING TO TALK TO YOU FOR HOURS
"You've been here that long?" How was this even possible? Where was she? Why couldn't he feel her?
The towel moved again. He hadn't noticed how full the mirror had got. "Let me." Taking it, he cleaned the lipstick off again, this time not bothering to use human speed. After all, she seemed to know who he was.
I'VE BEEN WITH YOU SINCE I GOT SHOT
That was how she knew. Had she seen him become Superman? Did she know that he'd caught her killers?
"Where? Why? Oh, god, Lois, I wish I could see you! There's so much I need to say to you — so much I want to ask you…"
I WISH YOU COULD SEE ME TOO. I WISH YOU COULD HOLD ME
Oh, so did he! More than he could even express. "Where are you?" And — wait, if she could hold a lipstick and the towel… "Why can't I hold you? Why can't you touch me?"
He held out his hand, and noticed that it was shaking. And he waited.
A breath of air swept across his palm. And then he felt it. Skin against skin. Fingers brushing fingers. And closing around his.
Lois's hand in his.
He wrapped his fingers around hers. And felt himself trembling uncontrollably. "Oh, Lois…"
Another touch. Invisible fingers stroking down his other arm. His breath caught again and, with a choking sob, he wrapped his arms around her. Around thin air, his eyes told him. Around *her*, all of his other senses knew. She fit against him as if she belonged there.
It really was Lois. He'd know her anywhere. He'd always thought that he'd know the shape of her blindfold. And now he knew that was true.
She clung to him as if she never wanted to let him go. He sensed her desperation, recognised it as equal to his own. He never wanted to let her go either.
Right now, it didn't matter that he couldn't see her. Couldn't hear her. He was holding her in his arms, and that was worth more than anything.
But perhaps there was a way they could talk…
"Let's sit down," he suggested. She didn't pull away from him, so he assumed she was okay with the idea. Bending slightly, he scooped her up just as he had so many times as Superman to take her flying. She snuggled into him as he carried her to the bed. He sat full-length and leaned against the headboard, setting her loose on his lap so that she could sit beside him if she wanted.
She didn't. She curled up on top of him, resting her head against his chest and wrapping her arms around his waist. Closing his eyes briefly in wonder and joy at having her so close to him, he tightened his arms around her, holding her against his heart.
She'd never snuggled so close to him before. Not like this.
But then, she'd never been dead before, either.
She had to be devastated. Torn apart with grief for all she'd lost. And probably terrified, too, at finding herself in a world where nobody could see her or hear her. A world where she no longer belonged. Which was carrying on without her.
She was dead at only twenty-seven. It was so *damn* unfair! And all his fault…
His heart wrenched for her. She'd given up everything for him.
But she was here. And the least he could do was try to offer her some comfort. "I can't hear you. But that doesn't mean we can't talk," he told her softly. "How about you squeeze my hand once for yes, twice for no?"
A pause. And then her small hand slid into his. One squeeze. It was something.
He swallowed. This was nothing short of a miracle, but now that he had his chance to talk to her again, a chance he never imagined that he'd get, he had no idea where to start. There was so much to say. So much he needed her to know… so much he had to know himself.
Such as *why* she'd killed herself for him.
But that wasn't exactly something she could answer via yes or no. So he decided to start somewhere else. "You know I'm Superman, right?"
"I'm sorry I never told you. I wish… There are so many things I'd do differently if I had the chance, Lois."
Her hand squeezed his again, lingeringly this time.
"I guess you found out when I took off to find Capone, right?" Another brief squeeze of his hand. "I wanted to tell you. So many times I thought about it, imagined it, even rehearsed it, but… You have to understand that it's a secret I've kept all my life. It's not easy to think about telling anyone — especially once I became Superman. But I want you to know that if I'd ever told anyone it would've been you."
She lay still in his arms. No squeezes this time.
"I don't know if you can understand that," he continued, desperately wanting her to understand. Needing her to know that he hadn't deliberately cut her out of such a large part of her life. Well, he had, really, but it wasn't something he'd wanted to do. He hadn't wanted to exclude her. Had wanted to share everything with her.
One squeeze. She understood. And, perhaps, if he was luckier than he deserved, she even forgave him.
He freed his other arm, searching for her head where it rested on his chest. Silky strands filled his fingers. He bent his head and pressed a kiss against her hair.
She shifted. Unable to see her, he had no idea what she was doing. And so he was taken completely by surprise when soft lips pressed against his.
She'd never thought that she could possibly feel any sort of happiness again. After all, she was dead. But she'd been able to communicate with Clark. He knew she was here. She wasn't all alone any more.
He was with her. He was holding her in his arms. He was talking to her more honestly than he ever had before.
And she could touch him. He could feel her touching him.
How she'd acquired the ability to touch and to hold, she had no idea. She didn't care either. All that mattered was that she *could*. Like a prisoner emerging from solitary confinement, she'd craved the warmth and comfort of human contact. The capacity to have it again was beyond price.
Her hand had shaken as she'd reached out to him. And, when he'd closed his fingers around hers, her eyes had stung. For the first time, she'd been grateful that he couldn't see her. She didn't want him to see her crying.
He'd held her close in just the way she'd desperately needed to be held. Held her against his heart. And he'd understood her need to communicate with him. Even though he couldn't hear her, she could still tell him things. Of course, she could tell him more if he got her a pad and pen, but for now just yes and no were enough.
Then he'd brushed his lips against her head. And she'd been filled with an overwhelming, irresistible desire to know his kiss. A real kiss, without artifice or hesitation — a kiss from the man she loved and who loved her. No matter that she wasn't even alive any more. No matter that, for all she knew, she could disappear at any second. She needed this.
The second her lips touched his, she felt him still. And then he made an inarticulate sound and one arm tightened around her. The other slid up to cup the back of her head, holding her against him. And then he was kissing her back, the way she'd yearned for, dreamed of, longed for, *needed*.
In his arms, she felt loved. Protected. Cherished.
She felt alive.
A simple kiss had never before sent tingles spinning through her entire body. A man's arms around her had never made her want to stay in his caring embrace for ever.
Too soon, he ended the kiss, trailing his lips along her jaw and stroking his fingers gently though her hair. She relaxed against him, her breathing returning to normal after the tempest which had crashed over her in the last few minutes. Well, whatever approximated to breathing in a ghost…
Unable to hold the words back, she whispered, "I love you, Clark."
"Oh, god, Lois, I love you too. So much…"
Shock made her rigid. "You can *hear* me?"
His expression told her that he was as astounded as she was. "God, I didn't… Yes! I can hear you!" His eyes closed briefly. "Lois, I can't believe it — that's fantastic!"
"Oh, wow. Oh, I can't *believe* it! I can talk to you, Clark!"
She scrambled into a sitting position, shifting off his lap and onto the bed beside him.
"Hey! You moved!"
He was reaching out for her, his hands flailing and reminding her that he still couldn't see her. She grabbed onto his hand, and he immediately seized hers, gripping it tightly.
"I… well, I was probably crushing you…"
"Lois, I'm Superman, remember? Trust me, you couldn't crush me. And, since I can't see you, I…" He faltered, taking her by surprise as sadness returned to his expression. "I need to hold you, Lois. I have to know that you're here… that this isn't all just a dream and that any minute I'm going to wake up and you'll be gone again."
Dead, he meant. Gone from his life for ever.
Well, she was dead. But, for some reason, she was hanging around as a ghost.
"I'm here." She squeezed his hand again, wanting to reassure him. "I have no idea *why* I'm here, or how long I'm going to be here, or why suddenly you can feel me and hear me instead of walking right through me but, trust me, I'm not complaining!"
She hoped he wouldn't hear the tiny choke which had appeared, unbidden, on the last couple of words. But, as he wrapped his arm around her and pulled her tightly against him and buried his face in her hair, she knew he'd heard.
"Oh, Lois." The bleak note was back in his voice.
And she couldn't blame him. Sure, they were together. Sure, they'd finally found a way through all the fears and misunderstandings and lies and plain stubbornness keeping them apart, and they'd actually managed to say those special words to each other. She was in his arms. Only a few minutes ago she'd been thoroughly kissed.
But, still, nothing had changed. She was still dead. They were never going to be together. What a time to discover that she loved him and that he loved her back!
Timing sucked. Life sucked.
And being dead sucked most of all.
Moisture dripped onto his hand. Clark stilled, then groped blindly for Lois's face, hoping that he didn't manage to poke her eye out in the process. Could ghosts be hurt? He had no idea. But he didn't want to find out using Lois as a guinea-pig.
He'd guessed right. She was crying. Her face was damp with tears.
The euphoria of a few minutes ago — first, from Lois kissing him and telling him that she loved him, and then from realising that he could hear her speaking — vanished as if it had never been. In its place was a piercing pain in his heart for Lois's tears, and the gut-wrenching realisation that she was right. What was there left for them but tears?
They couldn't be together. Hell, they were never even going to work side-by-side again, let alone enjoy a long and happy life together. He was never going to be able to propose to her. They'd never give his parents grandchildren together. She was a *ghost*. And, as she'd said so casually a minute ago, they had absolutely no idea how long she'd even be around.
He never wanted her to leave. Of course not. But, even if by some miracle she were able to stay with him, where would that leave them? Like some sort of copycat Ghost and Mrs Muir? Randall and Hopkirk? He carrying on with his job and his life, Lois tagging along invisibly wherever he went, keeping him company and whispering asides to him? Oh, sure, they could kiss and cuddle like this whenever they were alone. It might even be possible to do more than that with her, to be more intimate, but even still, where did that leave them?
What kind of relationship could he have with a ghost?
And what if anyone ever heard him talking to an invisible person? Of course, he probably shouldn't assume that he was the only one who'd be able to hear or touch Lois — but he couldn't assume that he wouldn't be, either.
But, as he stroked her hair and held her next to his heart, a deeper realisation sank in. Sure, he wanted her to stay around as long as possible. For ever, if she could, even if they couldn't be together the way they had been before she'd been killed.
But what about what Lois wanted?
Did she want to be stuck in a world where no-one could see her? Where she could see people she knew getting on with everyday life *without her*? Someone else sitting at her desk, writing stories which would have been assigned to her, winning awards which would have had her name on them?
She was stuck in some sort of twilight between life and death. In the world, and yet not part of it. She hadn't even been able to communicate her presence at first. What must this be doing to her?
He could tell what it was doing to her. She was *crying*, for god's sake.
*Why* hadn't he told her that he was Superman? If he'd only told her the truth, then she wouldn't have died. Wouldn't be lying next to him sobbing her heart out. True, she wouldn't have told him she loved him, either, but if he had a choice between knowing that Lois loved him and having her alive and well again, he wouldn't hesitate. In a heartbeat, he'd choose having her tell him that she loathed him.
He felt her move against him, and wished once again that he could see her. It was so weird to be holding her, even kissing her, only to see empty air beside him. Then her hand brushed across his.
"Sorry. I just… for a moment, it all got to me." Her voice was no louder than a whisper.
"I don't blame you." He hugged her, his heart breaking for her. For both of them. "I won't ask if you're okay. I just… God, I wish there was something I could do to make things right!"
"You're here." He felt her lips brush his cheek. "You're here, and you can hear me, and you're holding me… I don't think it's ever going to be more right than this ever again."
No. How little she had to cling to!
Suddenly, he had to know. "Lois, why did you do it?"
"You…" He had to stop and swallow. "You — pushing me out of the way like that, Lois! You got killed, and all because you pushed me away from a bullet!"
"You think I wanted it to hit you?" He heard her anger. He also heard her desperation. Quietly, obviously on the verge of tears again, she added, "Clark, the thought of you dying… I couldn't let it happen!"
"You think I feel any happier that you died?" Agony made his voice harsh. He felt her flinch, and immediately hugged her in mute apology. After a few moments, he spoke again. "I'm sorry I never told you."
"That I'm Superman." Closing his eyes briefly, he sighed. How easily, with how few words, he could have prevented what had happened. Could have prevented her murder.
"Oh." He felt her move again and, when she'd settled, he realised that she was sitting up, leaning against his shoulder. There was more physical distance between them now, and he felt every inch of it. "Right. You mean, in that you're invulnerable and so I didn't actually *need* to save your life?"
He deserved the acerbity in her voice. Deserved an awful lot more than that. Just what did you say to the best friend who'd given her life to save you, only to discover that the sacrifice hadn't been necessary?
"Yeah." For a long time, he said nothing at all. Had nothing *to* say. Anything he could think of was trite or sounded insufficiently sincere. He had no idea how he could even begin to make this up to her. If there were any way that he could exchange his life for hers right now, he'd do it in a heartbeat — but he wasn't even sure that he could tell her that. Wouldn't she interpret it as rejecting what she'd done for him? Rubbing it in that her sacrifice had been worthless?
She was silent too. But then, what could she say either? How much she hated him for leaving her in ignorance, so that she'd wasted her life for nothing?
"I'm so sorry." It was all he could say. But it was far from adequate. Words couldn't even begin to make up for the consequence of his omission.
"I know, Clark." Suddenly, her hand was on his again, squeezing. "I know you are. You know, I even understand why you didn't tell me."
"You do?" Then it came to him, and the realisation stung, all the more because it was at least partly true. And it made his sin of omission greater still. "You think I didn't trust you. That I thought you might expose me."
She was silent again for several seconds. He'd been right; that was what she believed. Then, incredibly, she laughed. "I forgot you can't see me! I was shaking my head, Clark."
"You didn't think that?"
He heard her sigh. "When I saw you spin and realised you were… him… Yes, that's exactly what I thought then. I was furious with you, Clark — I mean, I thought we were friends, and there was so much I'd told you. Things I wouldn't ever even think of telling anyone else. So the fact that you hadn't told me this… yeah, it hurt. It really hurt. And the only reason I could think of was that you didn't trust me. And then when it dawned on me that you wouldn't have died anyway if the bullet had hit you…"
"Oh, Lois…" Again, he was lost for words. How could he possibly make up for the pain he'd caused her?
After a few moments, she pressed his hand again. He accepted her reassurance. "Anyway, not trusting you didn't come into it, I swear. Not for a long time. When I first knew you, sure it did. Then, as I got to know you better, I thought maybe you wouldn't tell anyone — but then it was something else preventing me."
"I know. I had a lot of time tonight to think this through." He felt her shift again, and then she was leaning fully against him once more. He slid his arm around her shoulders, and she moved closer still. "While you were hunting Capone, there wasn't a lot else I could do. And I remembered the way I treated you while mooning over Superman. Why on earth would you tell me when I behaved like that?"
"Still, I should have."
"I know." A reluctant grin spread over his face. "Mom tells me that all the time. But, Lois," he added more seriously, "the fact remains that, if I *had* told you, you'd be alive right now."
Again, she was silent for a few moments. Then he felt her shrug. "There's an old saying. No use crying over spilt milk."
What was done was done. But that didn't make it right, or even bearable. Spilt milk could be cleaned up. Lois was dead and would stay dead.
He had to know something else, too. "But even aside from you not knowing about me being invulnerable, I just couldn't work out why you did it, Lois. I mean, you had to know you were putting yourself in danger!"
"You think I stopped to think about that? Clark, I saw the gun. I saw him about to pull the trigger. And all I thought was 'he's going to kill you'. And I had a nightmare vision of you lying dead on the floor, and I… I just reacted and shoved you."
She had. She'd pushed him hard, and the momentum, combined with the suddenness of the manoeuvre, meant that he hadn't had the time or the ability to stop her. Or to prevent himself toppling to the side.
She was still speaking. "I don't think I was even thinking about where the bullet would go — but, even if I had thought about it, it wouldn't have changed anything."
"You died for me. You risked your own life — *lost* your own life — for me, Lois. I just… I can't take in that you'd do that for me."
The silence lasted for several moments. Then, finally, softly, she said, "I love you. It's as simple as that. The thought of you dying scared me so much… you mean so much to me, Clark. I just acted instinctively to save you."
"And I didn't need saving." The bitterness he felt echoed in his tone. "And if I'd trusted you like I should, treated you like the real friend you are, you'd have known that."
"Clark! Please, let it go. We've already discussed it to death. Like I said, there's nothing we can do about it, so what's the point beating yourself up over it?"
Her generosity only made the knife in his gut twist even harder. He wasn't capable of replying.
And then she moved again; he could feel her shifting position beside him. She spoke slowly, as if what she was saying had only just occurred to her.
"Clark, if I hadn't taken that bullet for you, you would be dead now."
If she hadn't been so wrapped up in being dead, that would have occurred to her sooner. Of course, she'd also been busy focusing on Clark; it was pretty clear that he wasn't going to stop blaming himself for her death any time soon.
But, now that she'd thought of it, it was blindingly obvious.
"What do you mean?" He was staring somewhere vaguely in the direction of where she was sitting, a bemused expression on his face.
"Clark, what would happen if you got shot?"
He hesitated, still looking puzzled. "It wouldn't hurt me, Lois. You know that."
"No, I said *you*. Clark Kent, not Superman. What if Clark Kent got shot?"
This time, the penny dropped. His eyes widened.
"You're right! I'd have to pretend to be hurt, or else…"
"Or else everyone would know you're Superman." She grimaced, then remembered that he couldn't see her. "Anyway, I just realised that. So, I guess in a way I did save your life tonight after all."
His expression was sober. "I guess so. But I still wish you hadn't." His arm tightened around her shoulders. "Don't you know I'd rather it was me who'd died? That I'd do *anything* if it meant getting you back alive again?"
"It wouldn't do us much good if you were dead!" she exclaimed, laughter combining with tears.
"God, Lois, I love you! How am I going to go on without you?"
The agony in his voice made her want to sob again. She twisted in his embrace, wrapping her arm across his chest and hugging him. He held her as if he never wanted to let her go.
Quietly, she said, "You might not have to be without me. I mean, I'm here…"
"But for how long?" His voice was muffled; his face was buried in her hair. "And even if you can stick around, it's going to be so tough for you… I can't ask that of you!"
"You think I want to leave you?"
She knew what he was saying. Okay, this wasn't as bad as the torment of her existence an hour or so ago had been: seeing and hearing everything, but unable to communicate with anyone. In the world, but so not a part of it. How could she cope with weeks, months, even years of that? At least she'd be able to be with Clark, but how long before being invisible would get to her?
She had no idea whether anyone else would be aware of her presence. Maybe it was only Clark who could hear her. Who could touch her. And she wasn't sure which was worse: to be able to communicate with other people — who'd probably be scared out of their wits or would refuse to believe it was her — or simply to be not there as far as they were concerned.
"Anyway," she added, "I'm not even sure that I can. I mean, ever since I… died — well, wherever you've been, I've been." Did she have any choice about being with him? She wasn't sure. But it certainly didn't feel like she had the option to decide to be somewhere else — or nowhere at all.
Not that she wanted that, anyway. No matter how hard this was, or would be over time.
At least she'd have Clark… for the moment. They could even work together. She stifled a hysterical laugh as it occurred to her that she now had one ability even Superman lacked. Finally, after all her childhood daydreams, she was invisible. She could get past all those closed doors. Combining her invisibility with Clark's powers, they'd be unbeatable.
It was a nice dream. But that was all it was. Clark's life would have to move on. Perry would, sooner or later, allocate him a new partner. He'd go on to write great stories; would win more Kerths. Perhaps even a Pulitzer one day.
But that wouldn't be the worst of it. Clark loved her now. He might even be content to have a relationship of sorts with her now. But, sooner or later, he'd get tired of a girlfriend who was only there in spirit, wouldn't he? Someone he couldn't go out with — could never be seen in public with? A woman he could never marry, who couldn't give him the kids she was sure he'd want?
Icicles surrounded her heart. Instinctively, she pressed herself closer to him. His arm tightened around her and she heard him murmur something indistinguishable.
She had his love now, sure. But that couldn't possibly last — not in her present state of being. No; sooner or later, Clark would find someone else. And that would be absolute torture. If, as she suspected, her ghostly existence was somehow tied to him, how could she possibly cope with seeing him dating another woman? Getting married to her? Creating a family with her?
Better to vanish into nothingness now than to stay around and have to watch that happen.
Except… she couldn't bear the thought of leaving him. Not now. Not ever.
"Oh, Clark…" She reached up and kissed him again. Tears mingled with tears as his lips met and caressed hers.
He didn't know if it were possible. He didn't know if he could bear to do it anyway. But he had to let her go.
It was obvious that she was hurting. Her tears were ample evidence of that, even if he hadn't heard the pain in her voice when she'd insisted she didn't want to leave him. He didn't want that, either. But what kind of life could she have?
A living death. That was all. An existence. She'd float on the fringe of his life, with him but not a part of him. And, in time, she would hate it. Would hate *him*, for having everything she couldn't have.
Though letting her go kind of assumed that he — or she — had any choice in the matter.
Yet she'd implied that she couldn't seem to leave him — as if she were tied to him in her ghostly incarnation. Because he couldn't come to terms with her death? Because he'd pleaded with whatever powers that existed not to let her leave him? Because he'd begged her not to die? It seemed crazy, but if *he* was the one holding her here, then he had to stop. Had to relinquish her. Let her go on to wherever she should be, instead of keeping her here in this pretence of an existence.
But not yet. Please, please not yet.
Clinging to her, he deepened the kiss and felt her respond with what felt like desperation. His face was damp, and he didn't know which of them was crying more.
Then she broke the kiss. He tensed, waiting for her to tell him that she couldn't take it any longer. That she was going to leave him.
Her words stunned him. "Make love to me, Clark."
Make *love* to — But they couldn't. Could they? Could she?
She could kiss him. She could hold him. Touch him. Why couldn't she make love with him?
Could ghosts make love? But then, what did he know about ghosts? Before tonight he'd never even believed that they existed.
Even amidst his tears, his misery, his body was reacting to what she'd said. And he felt her responding to that reaction, pressing closer to him.
"Lois? You can't mean that…?"
"Clark." Her voice was shaking. "Don't you understand? This could be all we ever have. I don't know how long I'll be here. And… I *need* to be with you." The desperation was there again.
"Don't you understand, Clark? I'm *dead*! You don't know what it was like earlier, being able to see you — see everything that was going on — but you couldn't hear me. You had no idea that I was there. And you still can't see me. And, okay, we're talking now. We're even kissing. But who knows how long that will last? I *need* to… to feel close to you."
To reaffirm that she was really there. With him. To help her forget the cruel reality. Yes, he understood. And, being totally honest, he wanted it too, for much the same reasons.
He needed her. Wanted to show her how much he loved her. How much he wanted her. How much he would love her for the rest of his life. She was right: this night could well be all they had. Even if it wasn't, she still needed the comfort and the love he could give her. The proof of his feelings for her.
Feeling carefully, he found her face and cupped it with his palm, smoothing her hair back and wiping away a tear with his thumb. Then he claimed her mouth again with his own, taking possession of her with a deep, intense kiss. He heard her whimper, and the sound made him groan, a deep rumble in his throat. Rolling them so that they were lying side by side, he began to trace her body with his hands, learning her shape as a blind man would.
She started to pull at his clothes. He helped her. Then his hand encountered bunches of fabric — the red dress she'd been wearing and which had wowed him earlier. When he felt bare flesh under his hand, he realised that she'd been pushing it out of the way.
Then they were skin against skin. She was soft and yielding, silky-skinned and beautiful. She was all he'd ever dreamed of, and more — far more.
Touching. Kissing. Caressing. Fingers and lips speaking wordlessly, eloquently, of need and passion and longing. Of love and loss. Of desire and deep yearning. Of life and death and never wanting to let go. Learning how to say goodbye when that was the last thing either of them wanted.
And, as the storm ebbed away at last, he saw her.
Beneath him, she lay still, her hair fanned out over his pillow. Her eyes glazed with tears, dark smears in a pale face. Her body perfect in every way, alabaster-smooth in the glow of the moon, the only light in his bedroom. Pleasure and grief mingled in her expression. Her gaze fixed on his as if she were committing him to memory.
The last time he'd seen her, she'd been crumpled on the ground. Blood had covered her body. She'd stared up at him with sightless eyes, shock and pain written on her face, the hole in her chest a mute reproach for his failure to protect her.
His hand shook as he reached out to touch her. "Lois… oh, god, you're so beautiful!"
"So are you." She caught his hand and brought his palm to her lips. "I wish… oh, how I wish I hadn't been so stupid, so *stubborn* where you were concerned — we could have had this a long time ago."
"Lois, you don't understand." His voice was unsteady. "I can *see* you!"
Her eyes formed wide, round pools. "Wow…"
"Yeah…" It was amazing. It was *wonderful*. He'd never thought that he'd actually see her ever again.
He buried his head in her shoulder, hugging her close to him for a long moment, then pulled back so that he could see her. He wanted to take in every single feature, to imprint her on his mind, to replace the horrifying image already implanted on his brain.
But, in front of his eyes, she began to fade, growing fainter and fainter until all he could see beneath him was the bedding.
"Lois? Lois!" Frantic, he grabbed for her. Was this it? Was she leaving him? Was this the end of everything? How could he bear it? "Don't leave me, Lois!"
"I'm still here!" She clutched at his hand. "And you nearly poked my eye out!"
"Sorry," he choked out, staring at the bare pillow in front of him as if he could somehow conjure up her image again. "It's just… I can't see you any more. You just… disappeared. Right in front of me!"
"I'm still here," she repeated. "I'm here, Clark — I won't leave you, I promise."
Now she was comforting him. Shame burned inside him. That shouldn't be her role. And, anyway, he'd already accepted that she had to leave, that anything else wasn't fair to her.
"Don't promise." Softly, knowing he was crying again, he whispered to her. "Don't promise. You don't know if you can keep it — and I can't ask it of you."
Her arms tightened around him again. "I love you, Clark."
The words escaped him like a prayer. "Oh, Lois, I love you too!"
In one smooth movement, he rolled onto his back, taking her with him, and lay with her cradled on his chest. She nestled against him again, a perfect fit, and he tried to force back the lump in his throat. Words were inadequate to tell her what he was thinking, everything he felt for her. Losing her for a second time would be more torture than he could bear.
Yet losing her again was as inevitable as his next breath.
This was the beginning of the end, and he knew it. The fact that she'd faded away again mere minutes after she'd become visible to him proved it. Soon, he wouldn't be able to hear her any more, and then she'd once again become as ethereal as mist. And then she'd be gone forever.
This precious hour would be as if it had never happened.
He lay still, stroking her hair, as his heart slowly turned to ice.
He was sleeping. His breathing had been calm and even for the last twenty minutes, and she'd lain against his chest just watching him. He still held her, keeping her safe and protected in his arms.
Protected. As she hadn't been just a few hours ago.
But, as she'd insisted to Clark, there was no point dwelling over and over on those few seconds. She didn't want him to torture himself. He had to get on with his life — without her — and she wanted him to be happy. Knowing that he would be alive and happy was the only thing which made her sacrifice worthwhile.
She reached up to brush a kiss against his jaw. He murmured something indecipherable in his sleep and his arms tightened around her for a moment. Her Clark — her Superman — sheltering her in his embrace as he slept.
Holding a ghost next to his heart.
Oh, god, it was so unfair!
No matter what she told herself, she couldn't stop thinking about those few seconds back at the club. Dillinger hassling her. Clark coming to her rescue. The flash of steel as Barrow drew his gun. The shocking report when he fired.
And her swivelling movement before that. Pushing Clark. Seeing him stumble. The pain. Falling…
.. plummeting into a void… and blackness. Endless night.
"When the fates decide to screw up, they really do it good. *Damn* them anyway!"
Tears blurred her vision. The pillow was damp. Within moments, it got worse; she could barely see Clark.
She reached for him, and discovered that it wasn't just her tears making him hazy. She wasn't lying beside him any more. She was several feet above him, floating, being drawn along by an invisible, inexorable force.
"No!" Crying, screaming, she tried to grab for him, but he was already too far away. Her hands grasped thin air.
Too soon, too soon… She didn't want to leave him. Not yet! Not ever…
And then she was in a whirling, kaleidoscopic vortex… spinning, turning, flying, falling…
Tumbling into a white nothingness.
A world without Clark. A world where she was… what? Alive or dead?
As she scrambled to her feet, three figures appeared in the distance. Three women, tall, with long, flowing hair and loose gowns.
"Who are you?" Her voice echoed against the whiteness, the words bouncing back to her.
"Welcome, Lois Lane." One of them spoke. "You called to us."
"I did?" She shook her head. "No. No. I don't know who you are. I couldn't have. I want to go back. I want to be with Clark! Why did you take me away from him? I wasn't ready!"
"You called us, Lois Lane. Did you not try to damn the Fates?"
She blinked. What the -? "Who *are* you?"
"I am Clotho. My sisters are Lachesis and Atropos."
The names were vaguely familiar, but what…?
"We are known as the Moirae." Another of the women spoke. "You may have heard us referred to as the Fates. You called for our help, Lois Lane."
"Actually, Lachesis, she damned us," the third woman pointed out. "For that, she deserves —-"
"Don't be so hasty, Atropos. This mortal is not like those we normally encounter. Her death was not destined."
"Not destined?" What was going on here? Could she really be talking to three characters from Greek mythology? Though what was one more impossibility after everything else she'd experienced tonight?
"I do not remember cutting the thread of her life, true," Atropos said, ignoring Lois's question.
"No. This mortal sacrificed her life for that of another."
"And this other? Was his life measured and ready to cut?"
Clotho shook her head. "Like the gods, he cannot be killed by normal means. But this mortal was not aware of that. Out of love, she gave up her life for his."
"Look, what's going on — ?"
"So. Her fate was not to die."
Lois stared at each of the three goddesses in turn. Confusion and helplessness kept her rigid, unable to protest.
Atropos was silent for several moments. The other two stood as if waiting for a command. Then, finally, she spoke.
"Clotho, you must spin for her again. Lachesis, you know your role." Turning to Lois, she added, "Mortal, close your eyes."
Imperious, much? Lois glared at her, adrenalin returning at last. "Look, you… you… goddesses or whatever you are, what the *heck* gives you the right to jerk people around like this? Have you even the *faintest* idea what…"
Her jaw went slack. Her brain turned to mush. And as if compelled, Lois's lids drifted shut. Music as unbearably sweet as it was unearthly surrounded her. And once again she was swaying… falling… sinking…
"Lois? Lois? I asked if you're ready to go."
"Huh?" She blinked, disorientated. Where was she? All she could remember was white — a vivid, blinding, all-encompassing white. And somebody singing…
She was in her Jeep, dressed in a slinky red dress. Clark was beside her, behind the wheel, wearing one of his best suits. It was night. He was obviously waiting for her.
Of course. How could she have forgotten? She must have been daydreaming. Not good when they had work to do! They were looking for Capone and the other gangsters. She'd received a tip-off that they'd be at this club tonight. Georgie Hairdo's. They were going to get in and see what they could find out.
"Lois?" Clark touched her arm, shaking her lightly. "Are you okay, partner?"
She turned to him. There was something about the way he was looking at her. The concern in his gaze. The softness of his brown eyes behind the glasses… eyes she'd seen without those glasses. He'd looked at her like that before, too…
A fragment of memory…
<Oh, Lois, how am I going to live without you?>
An image… Clark leaning against his balcony. His expression bleak. A single tear.
<YOU ARE SO DEAD, CLARK KENT>
<Don't leave me…>
<You think I want to leave you?>
She stared at her partner. What was happening to her?
"Lois? You seem kind of spaced-out."
Flying… gliding through the night sky, following someone else… following Superman. Superman spinning, whirling, the Suit gone, the Superhero… disappearing?
No. Changing. Becoming…
A whisper in her mind… "Do not waste this opportunity, mortal."
A gunshot. She winced. Flinched. Saw someone tumbling to the floor.
Saw *herself* tumbling to the floor…
Heard herself damning the unfairness of Fate. Being dragged away from Clark, knowing that she was being torn from him forever. Knowing that now they'd never get to be together…
But she wasn't dead. She was here. Alive. With Clark. They hadn't even gone into the club yet… Yet.
"Clark!" She clutched at his hand.
"Hey." His lips curved in a sweet smile. "Welcome back, partner! You looked like you were on another planet for a while there."
"More like another life…"
He frowned. "Lois?"
She shook her head. "Never mind. Look, I've been thinking."
"Yeah? Dangerous, that." He grinned, then pretended to duck away from her.
"Yeah." She waved an arm in the general direction of the club. "I think we shouldn't go in there."
His brow creased. "Huh? But that's what we came here for. Isn't it? I mean, you insisted that —-"
"Yeah, well, I've changed my mind, okay?" She swiped lightly at him. "Woman's prerogative, you know. Look, we don't know if Capone and his thugs will turn up here anyway. And, even if they do, what can we do? It's not as if there's even a story if they do come."
"Well, yeah, except we want to find them."
"There are other ways of doing that." And she even remembered one of them. A dream? Or had it really happened? "You know, we could always ask Superman to find them."
Clark reached towards her, laying his palm against her forehead. "Am I hearing right? Lois Lane wants to take the easy way out of an investigation? You sure you're not coming down with something?"
At any other time, she'd have thwapped him for that. Now, though, it was different. A lot of things were different. "I just don't think we should waste our time on something which is going to be ultimately pointless. And maybe even something we'll regret."
"Yeah?" He drew his hand away. She felt the lack of its warmth immediately. "You got any suggestions for spending our time better?"
She looked at her partner. Saw his beloved, familiar face, his features now as familiar to her as her own. Remembered touching those lips, that nose, that chin… remembered kissing him, touching him… and more.
A dream or a memory? Did it really matter?
<Do not waste this opportunity, mortal>
She stretched out her hand, trailed her fingertips along his jaw. "Actually, I do."
He looked shocked — but interested. "Lois?"
"Shut up and kiss me, Clark."
A sharp intake of breath. And then he moved. Curving his hand around her head, he drew her to him. She held her breath, closed her eyes… and then his lips were on hers. Gliding. Tasting. Caressing. Learning her.
She parted her lips and invited him in. His arms surrounded her, drawing her back into his embrace. Back where she belonged. To the place she never wanted to leave again — next to his heart.
"I love you." A voice in her head, or her own words, spoken aloud?
"Oh, Lois. I love you too." A murmur in her ear, his voice vibrating against her head.
"Take me home." She already was home; she knew that now. As long as she was with Clark, she was home.
"Um, sure." His voice was shaky and, as he drew back from her, she saw the bemusement in his eyes. From his perspective, this had to have come out of left field; but then, he didn't know what she knew. She might tell him. Or she might not. It didn't really matter. All he needed to know was that she'd finally stopped lying to herself.
A little twist of Fates had forced her to admit the truth. She loved Clark. And it was time to stop running from that love. After all, the thread of life was too fragile to waste on doubts and indecision.
She reached over to Clark again, sliding one hand under his where it rested on the steering-wheel. He turned to her and smiled. His gaze, the warmth in his eyes, declared his love for her again as clearly as if he'd said it aloud.
They still had some talking to do — about Superman, among other things. But all that could wait. Fate had spun her a new thread, and she was going to weave it wisely.
Living. And being in love.
"Step on it, Kent."
He grinned. "For you, Lois, anything." And the Jeep picked up speed.
The three Fates, or Moirae, are the daughters of Zeus who decide on human destiny. Lachesis sings of the things that were, Clotho those that are, and Atropos the things that are to be. Of the three, Atropos is the smallest in stature, but the most terrible and feared. Clotho is the "spinner" and Lachesis the apportioner of lots. The thread of life is spun upon Clotho's spindle, measured by the rod of Lachesis and finally snipped by the shears of Atropos, the inevitable one. [from http://www.thanasis.com/fates.htm]
"The threads which the Fates spin are so unchangeable that, even if they decreed to someone a kingdom which at the moment belonged to another, and even if that other slew the man of destiny, to save himself from ever being deprived by him of his throne, nevertheless the dead man would come to life again in order to fulfil the decree of the Fates … He who is destined to become a carpenter will become one even if his hands have been cut off: and he who has been destined to carry off the prize for running in the Olympic games, will not fail to win even if he broke his leg: and a man to whom the Fates have decreed that he shall be an eminent archer, will not miss the mark, even though he lost his eyesight." [Flavius Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 8.7]
(c) Wendy Richards 2005