By LaraMoon < email@example.com>
Submitted: November 2006
Summary: What if we lived in a Lex-free universe… Who else could have caused the heat wave in "Man of Steel Bars" and why? Find out as Superman battles a whole team of vindicative super-villains — with a little help from his friends.
Here I go again, being incredibly original… this is a rewrite of "The Man of Steel Bars" where the heat wave is *not* caused by Lex Luthor. (My very own little challenge for myself: a Lex-free universe!)
This story is considerably longer than anything I've ever posted before. And… it's got an A Plot. But I hope this won't frighten you away. :)
The beginning of the story will sound mighty familiar, but I promise it does differ from the episode at some point! For one thing, like I said, the villain is different and… well I brought in a few other people from the DC Universe as well, just cause I felt like it. Hehehe! :) I also promise a little chocolate ice cream scene, a good tearjerker and a sweet reunion scene, so I hope this will encourage you to read on even though this is a rewrite of an episode.
At the end of this file, you will find a small bio of the characters I've used that aren't from L&C. You'll also find a list of all the silly little inside jokes I've slipped in the story while no one was looking. Some are really obvious (like the space rats… LOL!) but some are so obscure they deserved an explanation, so it's all right there at the end of the file. If, by any chance, you're as warped as I am and you happened to pick up on most — if not all — of them, I definitely want to know who you are!
Last thing: I borrowed a few lines of dialog from both the script and the actual episode (TMoSB)… I mean no disrespect or — God forbid — copyright infringement. The characters (from L&C and the ones from DCU, for that matter) belong to their respectful creators/owners. Other than these small bits of dialog, which I obviously didn't write myself, I wrote everything else. And yes, the main idea is taken directly from the show — but a lot of this came straight out of my own head, not anyone else's. I swear!
*Is everybody going crazy
Is anybody gonna save me
Can anybody tell me what's going on
Tell me what's going on
If you open your eyes
You'll see that something is wrong*
"Crazy" by Simple Plan
Lois Lane sat at her desk at the Daily Planet, shaking her head. For the last several days, the temperature in Metropolis had registered in the high 90's and the heat wave was starting to take its toll on her and everyone else. It wasn't the temperature that was bothering Lois right now, though, rather the fact that it wasn't supposed to get this hot in December.
"This is ridiculous!" she said, to no one in particular. Then, turning to her partner, she added, "Clark, do you realize that people are actually planning trips up *north* for Christmas this year?"
Clark Kent looked up at his partner, puzzled. "What's wrong with going on vacation up north?" he asked.
"Are you serious?! People usually try to get away from the cold. They fly south in winter, like the ducks! I was on the phone with a travel agent just before. Would you believe they're seeing a 500% increase in ski trips to Vermont and Colorado compared to last year? Plus, cruises to the Caribbean are at an all time low. It's as if we're living in… Bizarro world or something!"
"Bizarro world?" he chuckled. "You just come up with that?"
"Whatever! Bizarro, Reverso, call it anything you like. It's just very… strange-o!" She laughed. "You know… I'm really starting to miss the brisk winter air and having snow on the ground."
Clark raised an eyebrow in disbelief. "Remind me to ask your thoughts on winter when it's actually here," he teased. "I'm pretty sure by then you'll be telling me how much you really hate it!"
"Wanna bet?" she giggled. "But I sure could use a nice winter breeze just about now, though."
Lois turned her attention back to her computer screen and started typing up her notes about the vacationing trend she'd mentioned.
Resisting the urge to oblige and send a short burst of cool super-breath her way, Clark looked at the clock and got up from his chair. "We should get going if we're going to make the press conference," he told Lois.
"Right behind you," she said, typing furiously. A short few seconds later, she saved her work, got up and ran towards the elevator. "That press conference better be air conditioned!" she grumbled, getting on.
Meanwhile, somewhere on the outskirts of Metropolis…
A man sat alone, amidst an assortment of computer parts and electronic components, in the basement of an old abandoned building. He wore an evil smile on his face.
He ran his fingers delicately on a metallic wand, which lay on an end table next to where he was seated. The small glassy globe set at the end of the rod shone briefly at his touch.
"Clyde," he whispered, "you are a genius! I wish you were alive to see this, brother; see how your research — your life's work — is going to rid us of that overgrown Boy Scout in blue tights. Soon, I will rule over Metropolis."
"This press conference is going to be a nightmare," Lois thought to herself once they got there.
It looked like every reporter in the city was crammed into the small conference room at City Hall and, worst of all, there was absolutely no air conditioning!
"I hope this is over real quick, we can barely breathe in here!" she told Clark.
He shrugged. "I can cover this solo if you like. I'm not sure how much news we can get from this anyway. I doubt they know what's causing the heat wave, even the meteorologists at the weather network seem to be stumped."
"Nah, I'm good. Besides, if *they* all start suffocating — " She made a hand gesture to indicate she meant the other reporters. " — it'll give *us* something to write about!" Lois winked at Clark and together they made their way towards the front of the room.
The Mayor made his entrance, along with several city officials, meteorologists and other scientists. His statement merely consisted of explaining what efforts were being deployed in order to avoid brownouts and power failures. He also urged the population to limit their energy consumption as much as possible. No doubt every air conditioning unit in the city was working full power around the clock and this created extraordinary demands for electricity. With that, they started taking questions from the crowd of journalists.
Unable to silence the question that was burning her lips, Lois blurted out, "Is anyone going to tell us where the heat is coming from?"
"We've been studying all meteorological phenomena in the area: the jet stream, the ozone layer, even sun spots, but all patterns have remained consistently normal," one scientist replied.
"We have a theory…" another scientist confessed, uncomfortably.
The two scientists argued somewhat, claiming the theory hadn't been proven, that it was still just a hypothesis for the moment and that they were still entertaining several other possibilities.
"Please! We have a right to know what's causing this extreme condition!" Lois told them, above the crowd.
"Not 'what'… it's 'who'," was the answer they got.
Astonishment ran through the crowd of reporters. "Who?" several of them exclaimed simultaneously. This was going to be big news!
"On behalf of the citizens of Metropolis," Lois yelled out, "I demand to know who that person is!" She had completely morphed into 'Mad Dog' by now.
All eyes turned to the podium, everyone impatiently awaiting an answer.
One of the scientists took a deep breath and looked around the room. "Superman," he said finally.
Jaws dropped and eyes grew wide. Could this man really have said what they'd heard him say?
Clark felt his blood run cold. They thought he was responsible for the heat? But… how? Surely they were mistaken! He would never dream of endangering the population of Metropolis. For crying out loud, he spent all his spare time trying to save them from all sorts of perils! This made no sense at all.
Lois couldn't believe her ears. Of all the things they'd ever accused Superman of since he'd arrived in Metropolis, this was certainly the most ridiculous one of all, she thought.
"Come on, Clark, we're leaving. The heat's made all their brains go soft! How dare they accuse Superman like that! How dare!" Lois said, irate, tugging sharply at Clark's sleeve.
Under normal circumstances, Clark would have recognized this as Lois going into 'battle-mode' and his cue to do the same. However, these weren't normal circumstances and Clark was so lost in thought he barely heard Lois' comment. He saw her turn to exit the room and simply followed out of habit.
By the time they made it back to the Planet, Lois was getting worried that something was seriously wrong with Clark. He hadn't said a single word to her since they'd left City Hall and, moreover, he had a strange haunted look on his face.
"Clark? Are you OK?" she asked him as they entered the lobby. "You haven't said one word since we left there. What's wrong?"
He didn't answer, just kept walking towards the elevator. Lois grabbed him by the arm. "Earth to Clark!" she said insistently. "What is the matter with you?"
"Huh?" he replied, slightly dazed. "Sorry. You were saying?"
"Clark, you haven't said a word since we left the press conference, that's not normal, even for you. What's up, partner? Is something wrong?"
"Wrong? Oh… well, I've got a bit of a migraine coming on," he lied. "With all this heat and, you know… poorly ventilated rooms."
"I'll file the story on the press conference. You go on home and get better, OK?" She patted his arm affectionately.
"Yeah, I think I'll do that. Thanks, Lois." He smiled warmly and left.
"Poor guy," Lois thought to herself. "No wonder the heat's affecting him, he's been walking around with his suit jacket on all day!" She shrugged and got on the elevator.
As she got in the newsroom, Perry walked up to her. "Did you lose your partner on the way?" he asked.
"Well, he said he had a migraine. I… uh… sent him home, actually," she told him.
"That damned heat's knocking out everyone right now… If this keeps up, there won't be anyone left in this newsroom!"
"Well, it's not like he's been abusing his sick-day reserve or anything! And you should have seen him, Perry, he looked really awful…"
"Yeah, I know it's not like him to be sick at all. Anyway… the press conference… What's the word? They have any idea what's going on at all?"
"Not really," she told him, "in fact, I think the heat's making them all a bit delusional. They're blaming Superman!"
"Superman?" Perry asked, surprised.
"Yeah. Like that makes any sense at all!"
"They do say his powers are solar induced," Jimmy chimed in. "Maybe he's like a battery? And recharging him makes the temperature rise 'cause he's attracting so much sunlight? Sounds quite plausible, if you ask me."
"Jimmy! Whose side are you on?" Lois countered, obviously offended by Jimmy's comment. No one was allowed to badmouth her hero! Especially not her friends! "I refuse to believe that Superman is at fault!" she added, throwing her hands in the air in total frustration.
"Lois, calm down," Perry told her. "Now, if you're not going to be objective about this, I'll have to assign someone else to write the story. Otherwise, I want you to sit down and type. I'm thinking, front page title: 'super feat equals super heat?' and I want it on my desk half an hour ago!"
"Yeah, yeah, OK," she said dejectedly and started working on the article.
Later, in the villain's lair…
Setting the afternoon edition of the Daily Planet on the drawing table in front of him, the man rubbed his hands together triumphantly.
"I can't believe how perfectly this plan is working out!" he exclaimed. "It's such a pity you'll never witness it, my dear Clyde!"
He walked over to the main computer and punched in a series of keys on the keyboard. Seconds later, the screen flickered and the image of a woman appeared.
"All set for phase three," he said.
The woman gave him a thumb's up and together they laughed wickedly.
That afternoon there was an explosion in a warehouse. Eyewitnesses said they'd seen some sort of lightning bolt hit the electric generator, which had blown up, trapping workers inside the building. Superman had flown in and gotten everyone out of harm's way, then he had secured the warehouse and left.
As a result, the temperature had risen several degrees more, thereby confirming the current theory that the heat wave was a direct result of super activity.
Shortly thereafter, all local TV stations started broadcasting special news reports that were basically offering proof to the population of Metropolis that Superman was indeed the culprit.
Clark sat in his living room, his head in his hands. He could not believe what he was hearing. How could this be possible? He'd been using his super powers for years outside of Metropolis and that had never been the cause for any such temperature rise. What was going on?
Just then, he saw the City Attorney come on screen. She was coming out of the courthouse and was quickly surrounded by a large crowd of journalists.
"…to cease and desist in the usage of his super powers," she was saying. "I have subpoenaed him to appear in court tomorrow morning…"
Clark sighed in despair. "Cease and desist? How do I do that? I can keep my feet on the ground and stop using my heat vision, but how do they expect me to turn off my invulnerability aura?"
A few minutes later, his phone rang. He reluctantly picked up. He was in no mood to speak to anyone right now…
"Clark? It's Lois. Did you hear? They want to get Superman in court and have him stop… well, you know, being 'super'. They've all gone completely nuts! Hey, how's your migraine? Are you feeling any better? Oh… you weren't sleeping, I hope? Did I wake you?"
He couldn't help but smile. Lois' babbling always had that effect on Clark. Most people found it annoying, but for reasons beyond logic, he loved that about her.
"No, you didn't wake me. And yeah, I saw that on TV just now," he told her.
"They're crazy, right? You don't think it's his fault either, do you?" she asked, hoping she wasn't the only one whose sanity wasn't affected by the heat. Clark was Superman's friend, after all. He was bound to be on the hero's side!
"I… uh… you know what? I *don't* know. I don't have any idea. It doesn't sound logical to me, but I mean… what do we really know about Superman? How can we be sure it isn't his fault? Are there tests they can do, you think?"
"Well, I was thinking… So far, all the evidence they've been showing only pertains to dates. You know? On that day, Superman did this and the temperature was a certain degree… and they've got graphs that show the temperature rising after each time he's done something super, right? Well… what if we looked at locations instead? See for instance, if I were to check what the temperature was when he went over to China for two days and helped after the earthquake, I wonder if we'd see temperature rises as important as what we're seeing here."
"I'm not sure… Granted we're pretty much certain that his powers are solar induced, he needs the sun to sustain them in a way. That means he attracts sunlight and I guess his body accumulates it, like a battery, but is that even enough to make the temperature rise at all? Wouldn't the temperature have shot well over 100 this summer if that was the case?"
"Oh. I hadn't thought about it that way," Lois said, defeated. "You think?"
"Like I said, I don't know… I don't even think Superman himself knows for sure," Clark told her. He really wished he did have some idea how his very own body used sunlight. If he had, then it would be a lot easier to figure all of this out. But Clark knew as much about how his body worked as he knew about life on Krypton, which is to say he was basically clueless and that really annoyed him right now.
"I still think it may be worth looking into. You feeling up to it, Clark? Because there's a lot of data to go through and I could sure use your help."
"I'd be happy to help, but to be perfectly honest, I'm not certain I'm doing well enough to go back to the Planet," he answered. That wasn't a lie. He obviously didn't have a migraine like he'd told her before, but his spirits were quite low. He knew that if he went into the newsroom he'd only end up more depressed. All they'd be talking about was the heat and how it was probably Superman's fault. Clark didn't think he could endure that and not end up snapping at everyone. They didn't deserve that from him.
"That's OK, Clark. Stay right where you are. I'll even bring ice cream!" Lois said cheerfully.
Maybe a little company was a good idea after all, Clark thought. Besides, Lois was one of the only people around who wasn't trying to pin the blame on Superman. In fact, knowing that she was in his corner — even though she thought Superman was an entire other person — always warmed his heart. There wasn't anyone else who would literally get in the ring and fight to save the Man of Steel. Clark — and Superman — could really use someone like Lois just now.
"Yeah, sure," he said, "ice cream sounds really good, actually."
"I'll be right over!" Lois told him and she hung up.
At the same time, somewhere on the edge of town…
"You've done a wonderful job at that warehouse," said the man to his female contact on the main computer screen. "Congratulations!"
"Why, thank you, Wizard," the woman answered.
She made her hand into a fist and, upon opening it, a small ball of lightning seemed to hover inside it.
"The plan is still on track," he added, unimpressed by her display of power. "Superman is so predictable! And thanks to the media, the population's opinion of the Man of Steel has never been so low."
"Yes. They're going to drive Superman right out of the city in a matter of days," she said, twisting a lock of her azure hair between her fingers.
"Soon, the whole world will bow to me!" the man said, a victorious smile on his face.
"WHAT?" she roared, "Bow to *you*?"
Blue lightning flashed on the screen, then it went dead. A few seconds later, the woman stood in the room with him.
He hated that she was able to do that! It was a good thing his power could easily overcome hers.
"We're a *team*, you megalomaniac imbecile! Or have you forgotten about the rest of us?" she said, pointing a finger in his face. "If they're going remember anyone's name it won't be yours, it will be the team's! You got that?"
"May I remind you, my dear Livewire, that I control *all* weather. I could easily make it rain in this very room. And you and I both know what water could do to you, don't we?" He smiled at her viciously. "Therefore, I would advise you to keep your tongue and your temper in check."
"As long as you claim allegiance to the Superman Revenge Squad, you will behave as a member of the team," she warned him. "We work together or you're out!"
"Well, as we've established before all this began, short of us having to match strength with the Man of Steel — and you know full well he'd beat us hands down — this is the only way we have left of getting rid of Superman for good. And since I'm the only one capable of driving the weather, I do believe you need me a lot more than I need you."
"Nevertheless, either you stop acting like you're some supreme ruler, or I will personally ask Metallo to teach you the meaning of teamwork."
And with that, she turned into a lightning bolt and disappeared into an electric outlet.
Lois showed up at Clark's apartment barely ten minutes after hanging up the phone. She was carrying a shopping bag, which seemed to contain at least a dozen small cartons of ice cream.
"That was quick!" he remarked, once he'd opened the door.
"Well… I was already halfway here when I called," she admitted, blushing slightly. "I figured if you were doing better, you'd agree to give me a hand and… well, if you still weren't feeling well, I've brought you something for the migraine."
Clark smiled and moved aside to let Lois in. He should have known she'd come over whether he wanted it or not… Lois never was able to take no for an answer.
Closing the door behind her, he took the shopping bag she was carrying. For a few seconds, Lois stood at the door, just watching him walk away into the kitchen. Clark was wearing a pair of shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt, which let Lois catch a good glimpse of the well-developed body he hid under his suits all the time. "There's something to be said about being raised on a farm," she thought with an appreciative smile. For a second she found herself daydreaming of what it would be like to be embraced by someone with such nice muscular arms… Most of the men she'd dated had nothing on him in that department. In fact, Lois didn't think she knew anyone who looked so strong and athletic, other than Superman of course.
"Just how many cartons of ice cream did you buy?" he asked, as he started loading them into the freezer.
Clark's question caused Lois to suddenly come back to her senses. "Oh… uh… I didn't know which was your favorite, so I grabbed one of every kind," she explained, making her way towards the kitchen table. "With this heat, I figure we'll go through them in no time anyway. Right?"
"Well, it's a good thing I like chocolate," He laughed softly. "Cause these all look like they're a different flavor of chocolate!"
"As a matter of fact, they are," she told him with a grin. "Why would I have bought pistachio or vanilla when they have so many different flavors of chocolate? Besides, I don't like pistachio and vanilla!"
"I can see that!" he said, shaking his head. Leave it to Lois do something selfishly kind!
Clark left out two of the containers and grabbed a couple of spoons from the utensil drawer.
"Here," he said, handing her one of the ice cream cartons, "this one is Swiss Chocolate Chip."
"Mmmm!" she said, taking the ice cream from him, with a delighted smile on her face. "Which one did you pick?"
"Uh… I didn't look…" He read the label. "It says Double Mocha Fudge."
"Oh," she replied, sounding suddenly dispirited, "well… that sounds nice, too."
Just what was it with Lois and chocolate? And why did she need to sound like she'd lost a competition? As if this was a "win the best ice cream" contest and she'd just taken home the booby prize! Clark rolled his eyes and sighed. As long as he lived, he would probably never understand this woman!
"Here, take the Double Mocha. It obviously means a lot more to you which flavor it is."
She gave him a huge smile, like a kid would upon receiving the world's most incredible gift. "Thanks, Clark!" she said and happily exchanged their cartons of ice cream before walking over to his living room and letting herself sink into the big comfy couch.
He had barely had time to sit down himself that Lois was already halfway through her ice cream. He shook his head in disbelief. "Looks like this is *her* super power," Clark thought to himself, "eating ice cream faster than you can say 'chocolate'."
Lois stopped gobbling down the frozen treat long enough to take a few breaths. "Oh, my God!" she said, letting out a sigh to indicate her contentment, "this is sooooooooo good!" She closed her eyes, smiled and went "mmmmmm!" a few times.
Clark looked at her in awe. How did she do that, he wondered. How was it she could make that whole ice cream eating experience look like something… well… erotic?
"How about we… uh… get started on that data?" he asked, forcing himself to stop staring at once.
"Oh, right… right… the heat wave," she said, as if forced back to reality from a wonderful chocolate dream.
She dropped her spoon in the ice cream carton and set it on the coffee table, then grabbed a notepad and some files out of her briefcase and laid them out in front of them.
"These are all of Superman's rescues that we're aware of," she told Clark, pointing at one file, "and this one contains meteorological data for the last six weeks. I suppose I could have asked for six months of it, but it would have taken too long to get the information, so I just took as much as I could get my hands on right away."
Clark picked up the file containing the meteorological data. He obviously didn't need to look up any of Superman's activity from the other file… He remembered perfectly well where he'd been and what he'd done over the past few weeks. Even the rescues that never made it in the news.
They worked late into the night, cross-referencing dates and places with temperature and super rescues, trying to find a pattern. But there was nothing conclusive. The temperature rose and fell and, just when they thought they'd found a correlation between places and events, they'd notice something else that went in the complete opposite direction. They were clearly not going anywhere with this; there wasn't enough hard evidence to prove any theory at all.
"I think we should call it a night," Clark suggested, slightly after 1 AM. "We're just going around in circles."
"And we're about out of ice cream, too" Lois remarked, pouting, as she pointed at the empty cartons on the coffee table.
Clark rolled his eyes. "You've got a serious chocolate ice cream obsession, don't you?"
"Yep!" She giggled, then she stood up to gather her files and prepared to leave.
"Maybe the next step would be to have S.T.A.R. Labs do some tests on Superman," Clark offered. "I'll go over there tomorrow morning and see if there's any way they can help out with this. Is it OK if I leave you to cover the hearing at the courthouse?"
"Yeah, good idea. You meet with them and get them to set up tests of some kind. We need something concrete if we're going to be able to prove anything. As for the hearing, well, I wouldn't dream of missing it anyway. I mean, if Superman needs character witnesses or something, well, I really better be there!"
Clark raised an eyebrow in scepticism. As if they'd let Lois Lane — Superman's number one groupie — testify in court, he thought. She was completely incapable of being objective where he was concerned… Of course they were not going to let her speak on his behalf! Still, the thought of Lois wanting to be there for him did wonders for his self-esteem.
"I'll walk you home," he offered her, as they got to his front door.
"Oh, you don't have to do that, Clark. I'll just take a cab. I'll be fine."
"It's no trouble," he explained, "I need some fresh air anyway and I think walking outside for a while would do me some good."
"Migraine still bugging you?" Lois asked, concerned. "You should have told me, I wouldn't have kept you up so late if I'd known."
"No, don't worry, I'm doing a lot better than before. And I rather enjoyed the company, to be honest." he told her, as they exited his apartment.
"And the ice cream, I hope?" she enquired.
"And the ice cream," he echoed with a smile.
Clark had spent most of the night flying over Metropolis, after walking Lois home. The meteorological data had not helped find a trend, one way or another. If it had, then at least he would have known what to do about it. Instead, he'd spent hours trying to imagine every possible scenario and what each of them meant for his — and Superman's — future, most of which had no happy ending. As a result, when he appeared in court as Superman in the morning, Clark looked tired and defeated.
Judge Diggs was presiding over the hearing. She'd been quite sympathetic at first, telling Superman that she was a fan, that she appreciated what he did for the people of Metropolis. But she was just hiding an iron fist in a velvet glove.
When asked if he would submit to the court and cease using all his super powers, Superman unfortunately had to tell her that it was impossible for him to do that.
Surprise and indignation ran through the crowd. Impossible? What did that mean? That he wasn't going to comply? What was he, a friend or a foe?
The judge pounded her gavel several times before the courtroom finally went quiet again.
"Do you mean you can't, or you won't?" she asked Superman, frowning.
"I mean that I can't. Not completely," he explained apologetically.
The crowd started voicing objections again and Judge Diggs once more pounded her gavel to silence them.
"Would you care to elaborate?" she asked impatiently.
"Well, even if I can promise not to fly or use my heat vision, for instance, I cannot turn off my aura of invulnerability. It's always there whether I wish it or not." Clark knew he should also have mentioned the super-hearing ability, which he couldn't turn off, either… But he guessed that the aura probably required a lot more solar energy than a heightened sense ever would.
He continued his explanation, "As much as I would like to argue that it's not actually doing anything unless I'm being punched, or shot if you will, the fact of the matter is that it's always working, it's always 'on'. It's preventing germs from invading my body as we speak. It is always being used and always fighting… something. Now, I can promise not to use any of my other powers, but I'd have lied if I'd told you I could stop using absolutely every one of them."
The crowd grew louder and louder as Superman spoke.
"What does this mean?"
"Is he saying it's his fault?"
"He's pleading guilty?"
"If he can't turn that off, what is he going to do?"
Again, Judge Diggs pounded her gavel. She had to pound it for several seconds, even verbally ask the crowd to quiet down before they complied this time.
"I see," she said. "Well, then it looks like we're stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place for now. If you will not submit to this injunction, I would need to hold you in contempt of court. However, I do appreciate your honesty. You might have chosen not to mention these facts, but you have. In the interest of fairness — since you cannot physically do what's being asked of you — and given that you are clearly not trying to deceive anyone by hiding this, I believe we owe you the courtesy of working out some sort of arrangement that would suit all parties."
The judge paused, then asked the City Attorney to approach the bench. For a few minutes, they discussed an alternate solution to the situation. Satisfied, the attorney went back to her chair and the judge proceeded to explain what they'd agreed upon.
"Superman," she started, "we're going to limit this to your not making use of the powers that you can manage to control. And… you'll also need to stay completely out of the sunlight, until further notice. Obviously, you need to leave the courthouse, so I will give you an hour to find a place to hide from the sun. But no more. Do you agree to these terms?"
"Yes, your honor," he said solemnly.
With that, court was adjourned.
Meanwhile, back in the Wizard's lab…
"You *will* get him to do this!" the man yelled at Livewire's startled image. He slammed his fist on the table next to him. Several of the electronic components, which had been sitting on top of it, flew up into the air and crashed to the floor.
"Well, I'm sorry," she said, surprised by his violent reaction, "but he's refusing to take orders from you. And I don't think I can make him."
"Listen to me, and I suggest you listen really good," he commanded. "I don't care if you have to kneel down before him and beg, I don't care *what* you have to do. Hell, I don't give a damn if you have to do this yourself. This is going to happen and that's the end of it. There's going to be a train accident tonight and I couldn't care less how it comes to be, it will just be."
"I'll see what I can do, but…"
"No 'buts'," he cut in, his face red with anger, "you're going to make this happen! Or believe me, my dear, it will most definitely *rain* on your parade."
Livewire let out a frustrated sigh and cut the communication. She hated this man! She was starting to hate him even more than she hated Superman. As soon as the superhero was gone, she'd get rid of the Weather Wizard, she vowed. All she had to do was crush his stupid wand… And then she could rule over Metropolis. Yes! She would control the city herself!
Clark managed to return home unnoticed after the court hearing. He called Jimmy at the Planet and had him leave a message for Lois to call him at home. He wasn't going to the office, he explained, as his head was still throbbing with pain and it was all he could do to think right now.
Lying to Jimmy wasn't something Clark especially liked to do, but he had no other choice. He had agreed to stay indoors until further notice and the fact that no one knew *he* was Superman didn't mean that Clark Kent could go running around town in his street clothes and pretend that he wasn't violating an injunction. If Superman had to be confined someplace, then Clark would have to convince people that he needed to stay home for now. He hoped this wouldn't get so complicated that he'd let anything slip. Talking about himself in the third person was starting to be second nature by now — and so was pretending that he had conversations with… well, himself — but Clark wasn't very good at lying to everyone he knew. He hated doing it so much, no wonder he hadn't mastered the skill… This time, though, he really needed to pull it off, or he'd likely get himself in a heap of trouble!
He thought about his options for a while. Staying in his apartment with the blinds shut probably wasn't sufficient, if he were being honest. Sunlight did still come through no matter what and since he'd promised to stay completely out of it, that wasn't really acceptable, was it? So Clark picked up the phone and called S.T.A.R. Labs. He had Superman speak with Dr. Klein and ask whether there was any way they could set up some place for him to stay where he would be absolutely certain there was no natural light.
"Yes, yes, of course. We'd be more than happy to accommodate you," the scientist told him. "Several of our labs are below ground level. They can even be sealed off, if you need to be completely isolated."
"I don't think that will be necessary," Superman replied, "I appreciate your help, Dr. Klein. I couldn't think of anywhere else that might permit me to respect the terms of this injunction. I hope I can count on you to keep this a secret?"
"Oh, yes, definitely. No one other than myself needs to know and I give you my word, Superman, I will not betray your confidence."
"Thank you," Superman said, grateful for the doctor's discretion. "I need to stay where I am for now; I have to be indoors at least until the sun sets. When do you think it would be safe for me to meet you without risking being seen by anyone there?"
"Well… uh… I should think midnight would be appropriate for that," the scientist suggested. "The security guards would be doing their rounds then, so I can get you in through the back door. There won't be anyone at the front desk to see it happen on the surveillance screens. They never go back and rewind the tapes to see what's gone on while they were away unless an alarm sounds, so it won't be that hard to get you in unnoticed. Then I can rig the camera in my private lab so that they won't see what's actually going on down there. You'll need to hide while they do rounds, but I expect you should be able to hear them coming way ahead of time. Besides, they usually just look through the window on the door; they don't come in the lab. Nobody but the guards and myself have clearance to enter that lab, so you'll be perfectly safe and no one will know you're there."
"Perfect. I'll meet you at the back entrance at midnight, then. Thank you again, Dr. Klein."
Now, all Clark needed to do was think of a good enough excuse for himself to disappear from Metropolis for a while…
Lois went back to the Planet with a heavy heart. She had hoped to be able to speak to Superman for a minute or two after the hearing. She just wanted to reassure him that there was at least one person out there who didn't think he was guilty and tell him that she and Clark were working on finding the *real* cause of the heat wave. He usually stopped a few seconds to chat when she was there, so she had hoped that he would this time as well. But he had completely ignored her. Ok, so he also ignored every other reporter and left without answering a single question from anyone. Maybe he hadn't seen her there? He had left so quickly!
And now… Lois had no clue where Superman was or how to contact him — not that she normally did, but this time no amount of screaming out his name would make him show up, would it? He'd agreed to stay locked up somewhere and she didn't have the faintest idea where he could be. Poor man, he was probably all alone, worried and hurt and… well, just the thought of him being miserable made Lois miserable too.
She wondered if Clark had had any luck with the scientists at S.T.A.R. Labs. Not that it really mattered that much anymore… Even if they could perform tests on Superman, the injunction prevented him from using any of his powers — how would they be able to find out if there was a direct connection between the temperature and his super powers if he was restricted from using them? Besides, they wouldn't know how to contact him any more than she did, would they? Then again… maybe Clark would know? He seemed to have a privileged relationship with the Man of Steel, after all. She'd just have to make Clark tell her what he knew next time she spoke to him.
Jimmy caught up with Lois as she entered the newsroom.
"Hey, Lois, I have a…" he started, but she quickly interrupted him.
"Not now, Jimmy, I have to get this article in right away."
"But…" he protested.
"Not now!" she snapped, walking towards her desk as fast as her legs could take her.
"But, I have a mes…" Jimmy tried again in vain.
"I said *not now*," Lois hissed, giving him an angry look. She dropped her briefcase on her desk and sat down at the computer to type her account of the court hearing.
Jimmy sighed, frustrated. He made a beeline for his desk, where he grabbed a pen and scribbled a note in huge letters on a piece of paper. Once he was done writing, he walked over to Lois and slammed the note on her desk. He took off as quickly as he'd come.
"Hey!" Lois shouted at him. She looked at the sheet of paper. It said "Call C.K. at home."
"Jimmy!" she hollered, "why didn't you tell me right away?"
Jimmy turned to face her and gave her an 'are you kidding me' kind of glare. "Women!" he thought to himself before he disappeared into the copy room.
Lois picked up the phone and stuck the handset between her shoulder and her ear. She dialed Clark's number, then went on about typing her article.
"Hey, it's me," she announced, barely giving Clark enough time to say 'Hello' after he'd picked up. "I take it you're not feeling any better?" Lois asked, although it sounded more like an accusation than it did a question.
"Seriously, no. It's like my head is going to explode," he told her. He wasn't making it up, either. He'd been trying to make sense of things, weighing his options, hoping to find some way of saving himself and Superman… and failing miserably!
"You need to see a doctor, Clark," she said very matter-of-factly. "Did you get a chance to talk to anyone at S.T.A.R. Labs?"
"Actually, yes, I spoke with…" he started.
"There aren't going to be any tests," Lois cut in. "Right?"
"I don't see how they could possibly…"
"Yeah, I didn't think so," she interrupted again. "Anything else?"
"Uh… well… no." Clark answered.
"Clark?" Lois asked, suddenly switching from her 'all business' attitude to a gentler sounding tone. "You heard about the hearing, didn't you?"
"Yeah, I heard," he said, regretfully.
"You wouldn't happen to know…" she hesitated for a second before spitting it out, "Do you have any idea where he's hiding out? Superman, I mean."
"Lois, he doesn't want anyone to know… Not for the moment anyway. I mean, for one thing it could be dangerous. And not just for him. Besides, the last thing he wants is nosy reporters hanging around, wanting to ask questions. Even worse, people stopping by to catch a glimpse of the fallen hero."
"You know where he is, though, don't you?" Lois enquired.
"I do," he sighed. He didn't feel like arguing with her about this. Not now. It was best to tell her the truth anyway. Of course, he wasn't about to tell her *where* Superman was, but Clark still always favored the truth over lies, even little white ones, if he could manage it.
"I don't suppose I could convince you to tell me, could I?" she asked, sounding downright sugary sweet by then.
"It's just… I'm worried about him," Lois confessed.
"About Superman? Why?" Clark was surprised by her statement. Lois worried about Superman? That was a strange role reversal… it was usually he who worried about her. People weren't usually concerned with the well-being of an invulnerable alien, anyway. This felt slightly odd. Pleasant, but odd.
"Oh, I don't know…" she admitted. "It's just, I don't suppose he has a lot of people he can sit down with and talk to about things. He must feel lonely and isolated right now. Especially isolated. He's been ordered to go into hiding, for crying out loud! I just thought… well… I just thought maybe he needed someone to tell him they cared and that things will get better. That sort of thing. You know? A friend."
Clark wished he could tell Lois how much he really did need a friend, right now. But that just wasn't possible. He had to keep up the charade, let her think that *he* was there for Superman no matter how ridiculous-sounding that was, considering it meant he was there for himself…
"I'm sure he'd appreciate it, Lois."
"But you won't tell me," she added, sourly.
"Right… Well, I have to finish this story. Go see a doctor about your migraine, Clark. OK? I don't know how long I can cover for you with half the newsroom already out of commission."
Lois hung up without waiting for Clark to say anything more.
Clark sighed, somewhat frustrated, and dropped the handset back into the cradle. On the bright side, he thought, he'd managed to buy himself a little more time to come up with an excuse for having to go out of town while Superman stayed sequestered at S.T.A.R. Labs.
By mid-afternoon, Clark was going stir crazy. He'd been pacing for hours, trying not to get himself all worked up over the news reports about Superman that had been running continuously since the hearing. Some of what these so-called journalists were reporting was so far off from the truth he was ashamed to think he shared their profession.
The phone rang, but Clark was so lost in thought it took several rings before he even noticed anything.
"Yeah?" he answered, with an exasperated sigh.
"Clark? Honey, what's going on over there? Are you OK?" came Martha Kent's frantic voice.
"You should have called us, son," Jonathan Kent added, reprovingly.
"Oh… Hi Mom, Dad. I'm sorry… I'm really not thinking straight right now," Clark told his parents.
"What's all this nonsense about the temperature and you having to stay out of the sun?" his mother asked.
"Well, the temperature has definitely been rising over here, that's not a collective hallucination or anything," he explained. "It's like a furnace out there! As for the rest, I have to admit I'm just as clueless as you guys. I don't really see how but, for the time being, it appears likely that I am responsible for this heat wave."
"Hogwash!" his Dad interjected. "You've used your powers for years in Smallville and there's never been any changes in temperature. And there's been no such thing in any other part of the world you've been to either, has there?"
"No… but ever since I've been in Metropolis, ever since I put on that Suit, I've been using my powers a lot more than I ever had before and not just for everyday stuff. We're talking major rescue operations on a daily basis here."
"Still. We don't see how this makes any sense at all!"
"Yeah, I know. I'm not sure I understand it very well either," Clark admitted. "But what can I do? We all agree this needs to be looked into, there needs to be some real investigation into the cause of it and obviously while I'm out there using my powers it's hindering the results. Besides, I couldn't possibly stand there and tell a judge that there is no way I would submit to the judicial system. Do you have any idea what that would look like?"
"Of course you couldn't do that, sweetie, of course," Martha conceded. "But what does it mean for you, though?"
"What are you going to do?" her husband added.
"I've arranged to stay at S.T.A.R. Labs for a while. I'll be able to monitor things from there a lot more easily and I'll definitely be out of the sunlight completely."
"Won't that harm you, son?" Jonathan asked, concerned. "Not being able to see the sun at all?"
"I honestly don't know," Clark told them, defeated. "But it might serve as proof that I don't actually need *that much* sun…"
"Why don't you come back to Smallville instead?"
"Because, Mom… what if they are right? If I am a solar conductor, then what does it matter where I am? I would still end up being a menace to people and the last thing I want to do is put you guys in danger!"
"But if you're going to stay holed up in a lab for days… Clark, that doesn't make much sense either, you know. You wanted to live in the city, sure, not be imprisoned there!"
"I know, Dad, I know. I'll… I'll think of something. Don't worry too much about me."
"Clark, of course we worry. That's what parents do," Martha explained. "We love you, honey. Just you remember that and we're always here for you."
"'Love you guys too. I promise I'll let you know what's going on every chance I get."
Clark hung up after exchanging goodbyes with his parents.
He knew he needed to get in touch with Perry sometime soon… He'd been putting it off as he wasn't able to think of a good enough excuse for him to be out of commission for an undetermined period of time. Surely he couldn't play the migraine card much longer or the editor might start thinking Clark had a brain tumor. That would definitely not be a good idea!
He took a deep breath, trying to gather the strength needed for the task, then he picked up the phone again and dialed Perry White's number at the Daily Planet. Clark gave the editor some half-baked excuse about a vague family emergency, which he hoped Perry wouldn't be suspicious of or ask too many questions about.
"Family emergency, huh?" the chief replied. "I'm …ah… sorry to hear that, Clark."
"I managed to get a ticket on the red eye tonight, I'll be back as soon as I possibly can. I just don't know for sure how long this is going to take…"
"Well, can you ballpark it at all?"
"A few days for sure. Maybe a week. I sincerely hope it doesn't take any longer than that. I'll keep you informed, you can count on that," Clark promised before he said goodbye and hung up the phone.
"I don't envy the guy," Perry thought as he hung up the phone himself. "I'm amazed he's even able to keep it together these days…" He shook his head, hoping things would sort themselves out somehow. Perry would hate to lose half of his best news reporting team, not to mention everything else they currently stood to lose if this heat wave didn't end sometime soon.
At the same time, near the train station…
Livewire had been unable to convince Metallo to give her a hand with this train accident they needed to cause. The cyborg just wouldn't listen anymore. To be honest, she could hardly blame him for resenting the way he'd been treated by that blasted Weather Wizard!
She'd known all along that this was going to happen… The Wizard had serious delusions of grandeur. She'd told her companions that letting some weather-controlling maniac into their ranks was a bad idea, but did they listen? For crying out loud, the man didn't even have a bone to pick with Superman, let alone a need to exact revenge on him. He was from Central City, damn it! Let him go fight The Flash!
How was getting rid of Superman a proper revenge anyway? They needed to make him suffer for all that they'd endured at his hands. Forcing him to leave Metropolis… come on, what was painful about that? That was the stupidest plan she'd ever heard! What did an alien from another planet really care what city he was staying in?
Livewire couldn't believe she'd actually agreed to participate in this! Of course, unless she could get a hold of the wand and destroy it, she was the most vulnerable one of them all to fight off the Weather Wizard. Anyone who could make it rain on command had a serious advantage over a being made of pure electric energy. So for the time being she'd gone along with the plan… Once this was done, however, she'd make sure the Wizard was put out of commission and she'd go back to working on her own. Being on a team made up mostly of *men* really aggravated her!
So there she was, near the train station, trying to keep out of view while she looked for anything that she might use to cause a train to derail.
Suddenly, she had a better idea. Why force the train to derail when all she really needed to do was cut its brakes? A train without brakes would run full speed ahead until it crashed right in the barricade at the end of the line, wouldn't it?
She let out an evil laugh before turning into a bolt of lightning again and disappearing into a nearby electric power line.
It didn't take long before Lois heard about Clark's 'family emergency'. And it didn't take long for her to get really angry with him, either. He hadn't even bothered letting her know himself! That, combined with the heat and worrying over the future of Superman in Metropolis, well, it was just the last straw! Of course, it couldn't possibly be his fault that something had come up, but it meant she'd be stuck with lots of extra work, not to mention she needed her partner there for a whole slew of other reasons, besides work.
She wouldn't be caught dead saying it out loud, but right now, Lois desperately needed a friend to tell *her* they cared and that everything would be all right. She might be able to appear strong and determined at work, but once she'd find herself alone at home again, all the stress and the anxiety would catch up with her. That was when she'd need someone to be strong for her and the only person she could possibly think of ever letting herself be vulnerable with — other than Superman, probably — was Clark. As much as Lois tried to deny she liked him at all, she would be the first to admit that he was one of the good guys. Someone you could count on and trust. And feel safe with. But of course, just when she needed him, Clark *had* to go running back to Smallville. Well… Lois was going to personally give him a piece of her mind! How could he think of leaving her there alone when she needed him so badly? Men were so unreliable!
Lois managed to leave the Planet around 7:00 that evening. Considering half the people in the newsroom were missing in action, she guessed she was lucky to have made it out of there at all tonight. Her anger had cooled down several degrees by then, but she was still intent on paying Clark a visit. If anything, maybe she'd be able to convince him to let her know where Superman was. It was definitely worth a try… And if she could possibly manage to get a hug out of this, she would most certainly not complain, she thought, against her better judgment.
She headed off towards Clark's apartment, walking as rapidly as she dared considering just standing outside was sufficient to cause anyone to break into a sweat in a matter of minutes. Lois still preferred walking there as opposed to taking a cab. For one thing, it wasn't very far away and she always hated having to listen to cabbies chat about the weather — especially now that everyone thought Superman was guilty of causing a heat wave. The last thing she wanted to hear people talk about was the weather!
When Lois arrived at Clark's place, she noticed there were no lights on. For a minute she wondered if perhaps he was already gone? Perry had said that Clark was going to take a red eye flight out to Kansas. Maybe he had found a seat on an earlier one? Selfishly, she hoped he was still around and had simply gone out for a few minutes.
She went up the stairs leading to his front door and knocked. He probably wasn't there, but she thought she should at least find out for sure before she let herself in. In the event there was no answer, she would just get the spare key she knew Clark kept hidden under the big flowerpot on the side of the door.
Lois waited a few short seconds before putting her ear to the door. If Clark was in there, maybe she would hear him? But other than what sounded like a radio, she heard nothing. She knocked again and waited a few seconds more. Much to her surprise, upon turning the doorknob, she found that the door wasn't even locked. She opened it slowly.
"Clark?" she called out. "Clark, are you there?"
She listened for a second and thought she heard footsteps coming from inside. Her heart started racing… It was pitch dark in there and she didn't want to venture further inside in case whoever was there wasn't Clark. If only she could see what was going on! She wasn't scared of taking on a burglar or anyone else for that matter — she did know tae kwon do after all — but she wasn't too keen on fighting in the dark and risk breaking her neck tumbling down the stairs. Judging by the sound, whoever it was, was coming closer towards her. Lois held her breath and leaned in against the door, which caused the hinges to creak loudly. So much for her stealth advantage, she thought.
Suddenly a light came on.
"Lois?" Clark asked on seeing her standing halfway through his front door. "What are you doing here? And why can't you knock like normal people do?"
"Clark! You scared me half to death! Of course I knocked. Twice! And then I saw the door wasn't locked, so I opened it. Didn't you even hear me call out your name?"
"Oh… uh… Really?" he said, confused. "I was on my way to get some water in the kitchen and I heard a cracking sound coming from the door. I didn't hear anything else prior to that." Was he so lost in thought that even with super-hearing he couldn't hear Lois coming inside his apartment? That was a first for sure. "Well, don't just stand there," he continued, slightly frustrated. "You can come in, Lois, you're already halfway there anyway."
"Wow, what a way to make a girl feel welcome…" she remarked bitterly. "You're still not feeling well, are you, Clark?" she asked, closing the door behind her and making her way towards him.
"No, I'm not," he admitted.
"I've still got that migraine medication with me, if you like?" Lois said, pulling a small plastic bottle out of her briefcase and handing it to him.
"Lois… what are you doing here?" he asked again, not bothering to take the bottle he was being handed.
Seeing he wasn't going to take it, Lois put the medication back in her briefcase and said in a sour tone, "What? Can't I drop by and see my partner before he leaves for God knows how long? In fact, I'm more than a little hurt that you decided to skip town and didn't even bother to tell me yourself. I thought we were friends."
Clark shot her an exasperated glance, the likes of which Lois had never seen on him. OK, maybe she'd gone a little bit too far… She reminded herself that it wasn't his fault he had to leave and tried to calm down a bit. Clark was obviously not feeling well, she thought, because he would never have reacted that way normally. In fact, whatever this family thing was, it had him so preoccupied he hadn't heard a single thing even though she'd made plenty of noise before actually coming inside.
"Ah… I'm sorry," Lois apologized, breaking the awkward silence, "I didn't mean it that way. This whole thing with the heat and Superman… it's really stressing me out. I just needed to see a friendly face, I guess. But… you look like you need a friend even more than I do."
If there had ever been a time when Clark wished Lois knew his secret, it was now. It would have been so easy to talk to her, then. He so badly needed to be able to share his pain and frustrations with someone. But that wasn't going to happen tonight… And he didn't have the heart or even the strength to go through the whole 'I am Superman' speech right now either. He knew too well how Lois would take this sort of news — she'd be angry with him, she'd probably yell and want to hit him or something. It was likely she'd storm out of there in a fit of rage, actually! He much preferred having her here and in a good mood even if that meant he would need to keep everything bottled up inside, as usual.
"Yeah, I could definitely use a friend right about now," he said finally, with a sad smile. "You have any idea where I can find one?" he continued, in a futile attempt at humor.
"Right here, you lunkhead." she said teasingly. Lois took the last few steps towards Clark and pulled him into an amicable hug. She smiled as she realized she'd managed to get that hug, just as she'd hoped.
"Thanks," Clark whispered, taking in the warmth from her body and the sweet smell of her hair.
"Thing will get better, you'll see," she told him, trying very hard to believe it herself.
Just then, they heard a special news report on the radio. "We interrupt this program to bring you breaking news," an announcer with a deep baritone voice said. "We have just learned that a high-speed Metro train has lost its brakes. Passengers in the main terminal are being evacuated, but there are over three hundred people at risk on the train. We now join our special correspondent…"
Lois let go of Clark immediately. "I guess I better get over there," she told him, shrugging. "You feel well enough to tag along?"
"You go ahead," he replied, "I'll… ah… they could use Superman's help over there. I'll make sure he knows about this."
"But, Clark… he can't. The injunction… If he shows up there tonight, they're likely to have his head!"
"Lois, a *train* has lost its brakes. We both know there's nothing anyone else can do to stop that. If Superman doesn't help, who knows how many people will die. We can't let that happen!"
"No, of course we can't, you're right," she conceded. "Well you better hurry and get him, then!" and with that they made their way out of the apartment, each going in a different direction.
Clark ran into the alley behind his apartment, then spun into the Suit and took off to the sky. "I'm sorry," he whispered once he got high enough so he got a good glimpse of the city. He was fairly certain that this rescue would cause the temperature to rise again and he really felt bad about causing the citizens of Metropolis to suffer this way. He hoped they would understand…
Superman flew towards the main train terminal at top speed. Once he reached there, he stood on the tracks, arms stretched out in front of him, and waited for the train to arrive, hoping he'd be strong enough to stop its course. The train hit him head-on. Its engine had been cut off in an attempt at slowing it down but the speed at which it was currently traveling still caused Superman to recoil several feet back. Twice he tried flying towards the front of the train and pushing forward into the locomotive with all his might, his hands creating deep indentations in the metal. Finally, the train came to a grinding halt.
He quickly x-rayed the locomotive and the cars it was pulling to check for injured railroad employees or passengers, but saw no one in need of immediate medical attention. Completely avoiding contact with people — especially the press — Superman flew off the scene of the accident as soon as he could manage it.
When he got inside his apartment, Clark slumped onto the sofa, exhausted and as heavy-hearted as he'd ever been in his life. He'd blatantly violated the terms of the injunction and he knew perfectly well what this meant: Superman was in trouble. Deep.
But what else could Clark have done, under the circumstances? People would have died if he hadn't shown up there tonight! There was no way he could just turn off his super hearing, silence his heart, his conscience, and simply stop being Superman. Standing still and ignoring calls for help when he was the only one who *could* help was something he just could not do. He wouldn't be able to live with himself if he'd done that. He had all these amazing powers, gifts that he could use to save lives and to do some good for the world that had welcomed him with open arms. Going back to being 'just Clark' and hiding for fear of his secret being revealed: that wasn't an option anymore. He was Superman, he had sworn to be there for the people of Metropolis and the world; pretending that it wasn't the case was just plain impossible.
He would simply have to suffer the consequences of his actions, no matter how unpleasant that was bound to be. This, at least, he knew he could live with. Oh, he knew it wouldn't be easy; he'd given his word and yet he had turned around and done exactly what he'd been asked not to do. As inconceivable as this was for a man who stood for truth and justice, Superman had broken his promise; even worse, he'd broken the law! But, on the other hand, stopping that train… Clark knew it was the right thing to do. And 'doing the right thing' was something Superman stood for as well.
By 8:30 PM that evening, news of the latest Superman rescue was all over Metropolis. Public demonstrations had mushroomed all around the city. Crowds of people, worried about this causing new temperature rises and furious as the hero for ignoring the injunction, were amassing around many key municipal buildings; City Hall, the courthouse and most police precincts were surrounded by protesters, thirsty for justice. Angry citizens with their fists in the air were shouting for the Mayor to take action. Several held up signs asking for Superman to leave the city.
The Mayor of Metropolis reacted within a half hour by holding a press conference. He started off by requesting that people please remain calm. They may be outraged, and it was understandable, but anger and violence was not the answer. Rioting would obviously not be tolerated and an order had been given to the police to disperse the crowds and bring in anyone who did not comply.
"I absolutely hate to have to do this," the Mayor told the press and the citizens gathered in front of City Hall to hear his allocution, "but under the circumstances, I have no other choice. Superman, first I'd like to personally thank you for everything you've ever done for the people of Metropolis. This of course includes rescuing over 300 people on the Metro train tonight. However, because you've chosen to disrespect the court order and, in doing so, have shown disrespect for the very things you have claimed to stand for and because of the current situation, I need to ask you to leave the city. It saddens me that things have come to this, but we see no other alternatives at this time. Superman, wherever you are, I beg you to please leave Metropolis at once."
Clark spent the next few hours staring blankly into space, having not moved an inch from the sofa he'd sat in when he first got inside the apartment. He'd heard the press conference and had been crushed as he realized that people had started cheering as the Mayor made his argument asking for Superman to go away. They were cheering! After everything he'd done for them, they were rejoicing at the idea that he would leave in disgrace. He couldn't believe that these were the same people who once idolized Superman to such a degree they almost worshiped the very ground he walked on. For the first time in his life, Clark wondered if there was any good left in the world.
The phone rang several times, but he never answered. He had a good idea who it was that would be calling him, but he didn't have the heart to talk to his parents. He knew they would try to encourage him to fight this, but he just didn't have it in him to battle it out anymore. And fight what, anyway? It seemed obvious that every time he did anything 'super', the temperature went up. But if *he* wasn't causing that, who was? Who had the power to do this and how? And, more importantly, how could he possibly figure out what was going on while he was being locked up somewhere? He couldn't prove anything, especially if he was being prevented from investigating things! His hands were tied behind his back. Besides, he didn't especially want to stay somewhere he wasn't welcome anymore. Superman would leave tonight, just as he'd been asked.
By midnight Clark had written his very last Superman exclusive. He thought at first that Superman should make a public appearance of some kind, but then he'd realized that, given the state of things, this would definitely not encourage people to stay calm. So he settled for Superman's farewell and most sincere apologies to be printed in the Daily Planet instead. Clark saved the article on a disk, then he typed his resignation letter. Since Superman had to go, then Clark would pack up his things and move, leaving behind his job, his friends and a great big piece of his heart. He'd swing by the newsroom, send off the article to the editor, leave his notice on Perry's desk and then grab his personal things before leaving for good.
The only thing left after that would be saying goodbye to Lois. That was the one thing he was looking forward to the least. How do you say goodbye to the woman you love?
Meanwhile, a celebration was underway at the Wizard's hideout…
"To the success of phase three," the Weather Wizard said, lifting up a glass of champagne.
"To our success," Livewire echoed with a smile, on the other end of the videoconference, before taking a sip from her glass.
"Where are our other colleagues, my dear?" the Wizard asked as he noticed she was the only one showing up on screen.
"Ah… Yes, I meant to tell you… They've left," she explained. "I told you that Metallo refused to take orders from you any longer. Well, he's convinced the other two that you have no right ordering them around. Kalibak's gone back to his own Dimension or wherever it is that he's from anyway… And Toyman, I don't know, he said something about space rats. See if I care!"
Livewire hoped the Wizard would take the bait. Metallo hadn't convinced anyone of anything… she had. Why should they listen to the Weather Wizard, she'd told them, what right did *he* have to position himself as their leader? He wasn't one of them. He was from Central City; he didn't even share their goal of destroying the Man of Steel. Of course they'd all agreed with her. Men were so predictable! And in a lucky twist of fate they'd even left Metropolis, deciding that causing Superman to leave the city wasn't a good enough revenge and that they should endeavor to find him and make him pay for all his sins. How absolutely perfect this was, she thought.
"Never mind them, then. Let's you and I enjoy the fruits of our labor. We're free to create havoc and mayhem to our heart's content. Nobody can stop us now. Metropolis is ours for the taking." He burst into a wicked laugh as he daydreamed about all the riches and the power he would acquire.
Unbeknownst to the Wizard, Livewire was busy planning a 'phase four'… That was when she would usurp his self-appointed crown and proclaim herself supreme ruler of Metropolis. She deserved it, after all. She was the one who had done all the dirty work. All the Wizard had ever done was wave his little wand and bark orders at everyone else. He didn't deserve the rewards. The others didn't either! All they'd done was complain. None of *them* deserved anything. Definitely not.
When Clark walked into the newsroom, he was surprised to find Lois still there. It seemed as though she'd been reading scientific journals and that she'd fallen asleep at her desk while doing so. He knew how determined Lois could be, but this went beyond her usual dedication for a story. Of course, Superman had never been 'just a story' to her, but still… Most everyone seemed convinced that, once he was gone, the heat wave would be a thing of the past. Yet here she was, in the middle of the night, still searching for clues in a futile attempt to prove that Superman wasn't responsible for this weather phenomenon. He couldn't help but admire her tenacity… After all, he — Superman, that was — had given up, at the request of the population of Metropolis. He hadn't really expected anyone to bother with this anymore…
Clark made his way to his desk, sent off his final Superman exclusive to the editor and reluctantly packed all his personal belongings in a cardboard box. The chore done, he walked over to his partner's desk. He wasn't nearly prepared to say goodbye to her but it was now or never, he knew.
"Lois," he said, gently placing his hand on her shoulder.
Lois slowly lifted her head up from her desk and looked in his direction. "Hmmm?" she mumbled, not quite awake.
"Lois, It's late. You should go home."
"Clark? You're still here? I thought you'd be in Smallville by now." Lois sprung off her chair, fully alert now.
Just then, she caught sight of the box sitting on Clark's desk. A picture frame, which held a photograph of his parents, was jutting out of it.
"What are you doing?" she asked her partner, alarmed. This couldn't be what it looked like, could it?
"I'm leaving Metropolis," Clark answered. "I'm… going to work for the Smallville Post. Managing Editor." It was the first thing that came to mind. Perhaps not the best excuse he'd ever thought of, but he was pretty sure it would work.
Lois just about fell back in her chair. "No!!" a voice in her head screamed out. This couldn't be happening!
"You're quitting?" she said, frowning. "You were only supposed to be gone a few days! You can't quit, we're in the middle of a crisis!"
"Look, I know there's no good time to…" he started.
"Is that what your 'family emergency' was? A job interview?" Lois asked, accusingly.
"No, of course not!" Clark countered.
"Then what? Is it that bad over there or do you just miss the cornfields so much? Because, you know, I seem to remember you saying this — " She made a circular gesture to indicate the newsroom. " — was your dream job. Big city newspaper, isn't that what you'd always wanted to do? What could possibly make you want to go back to *Small*ville."
"I guess I'm just not cut out for big city life," he lied.
"Well, nobody's cut out for big city life. That's what makes it so exciting," she told him after a moment's reflection.
Clark sat in the empty chair next to Lois' desk and gently took one of her hands in his. "Lois… I'm sorry… I just can't stay in Metropolis anymore," he told her.
"No, no, no! The Daily Planet needs you. Superman needs you now more than ever." Lois was desperate to make him change his mind. "And… I need you, too…" she whispered, looking at their joined hands. It was hard enough dealing with the fact that Superman would be leaving; she didn't think she'd be able to stand losing Clark as well. How could everything fall apart like this?
"You don't need a partner, Lois. You never did," he told her reassuringly. In fact, he recalled that she'd made it quite clear on several occasions that being partnered with him — or anyone for that matter — wasn't exactly her cup of tea. She'd be partnerless again; wasn't that what she wanted?
"Well maybe not, but… I was… s-starting to like having one," she replied, trying to hide the pain she felt. She wasn't going to fall apart, not now. Lois Lane did not break down and cry!
"I just wanted to say goodbye," he said softly.
"Oh, I get it!" she threw at him, withdrawing her hand from his.
"You do?" he asked, clearly confused.
"Well it's obvious, Clark. Nobody in their right mind gives up a great job in the middle of the night because they have the chance of a lifetime to edit the Smallville Gazette!"
"Whatever!" she snapped back. She looked him straight in the eyes and continued, "This isn't about a job. Did you really think I hadn't figured out what it was about you and Superman?"
"What do you mean?" Clark asked, startled. Did she know? She couldn't, could she? She would have said something if she did… Right?
"You idolize the man, Clark. And now he's in trouble and you share his pain. Look, I know it's depressing that they've told Superman to leave, but seriously… Clark, you can't throw away your career because you won't allow yourself to stay in Metropolis. I mean, granted, this is a city where people are so incredibly dense that, even after all he's done for us, they're shooing Superman away as if he's some insignificant little bum. But leaving over that… It makes no sense! You need to step out of that whole goody two-shoes attitude, once and for all. No, the world isn't perfect and people do really dumb things, I mean, really, really dumb things, but that's not a reason for you to leave! Go unpack your stuff… You are not a quitter."
"You don't understand…"
"Then why, Clark? Why?!" Lois demanded, her eyes filling with tears.
She was clearly taking this harder than he'd expected. Clark knew that Lois had a hard time with people dropping out of her life — men mostly, whom she felt had taken everything they needed from her and just left her there to pick up the pieces. But… what did she care if he left and never came back? Superman, he could imagine, but Clark Kent? She hadn't really given him any reason to believe she cared much about him.
"I have no choice," he told her.
"Yes, you do!" she blurted out. "You can choose to stay and find whatever it is that's going to stop this heat wave and save Superman!"
"I can't save Superman, Lois," Clark told her, shaking his head miserably. "Believe me, I tried."
<*He* can't save Superman? He tried? Huh?>
"Well you can't do it alone! I can't do this alone either, I need you here. We're partners. Lane and Kent, best reporting team in the city, remember? Clark, there's nothing you and I together can't get to the bottom of. And by God, I think we owe Superman this much, after all the trouble he's ever gotten us out of."
"Lois, I appreciate what you're saying and I wish it didn't have to be this way. But I really have to go."
"Clark Kent!" Lois snapped her fingers at him. "Would you listen to yourself?! You'd think you've been banished along with Superman or something. He might have to go away — for now! — but nobody's asking *you* to leave the city!"
Clark just stared at her with a defeated air, saying nothing. He couldn't tell her that they had indeed asked him to leave… but how could he lie to her so openly? He'd already crossed the line between a little white lie and pure fiction when he'd told her he had a job waiting for him in Smallville. Of course, it wouldn't actually be that hard for him to *get* the job, but that was beside the point. He opened his mouth to speak, but words did not come out, so he closed it again. He looked at his feet and shook his head, then he looked at Lois again, his eyes filled with the deepest sorrow.
"I'm sorry," he said finally. As much as Clark thought it would have been for the best to stand there and tell Lois that, no, of course they hadn't asked him to leave, he could not bring himself to do so.
He was sorry? That didn't make much sense to Lois at first. Sorry for what? Suddenly, she found herself playing some sort of crazy connect-the-dots game in her head: he had said that he had no choice, had told her that he'd tried to save Superman but that he had failed… And now he had this sad look in his eyes and, instead of confirming the fact that no one was making him leave, he was apologizing?
And then it hit her. Like a ton of bricks. Her eyes grew wide and her jaw dropped. Clark was…? He was…? Superman?
"But… but…? That can't be! He's so… and you're just…" Lois was babbling semi-coherently. "You don't even look… oh, wait… you do."
Clark knew that this was the point of no return. There was no way he could hide the truth from her any longer. He gave her a sad smile. "Look, can we go somewhere a little more private and finish this conversation?" he asked.
She nodded, still dazed by what she'd just uncovered. He led her to the conference room and shut the door behind them.
"Clark?" Lois asked, distraught. "That's why you're leaving, isn't it? The real reason you're leaving, I mean. You… You're…"
"Yes, Lois," he answered slowly. He took a deep breath and looked her in the eyes. "I'm Superman," he said finally.
Well, this explained quite a few things, she thought. The disappearances and the lame excuses, the exclusive interviews! It also occurred to her that she'd been gushing over Superman… directly to his face. Lois turned bright red at the thought. She was so embarrassed, she wished she could disappear right under the carpet.
"Great reporter I am," she whispered, frustrated at herself for not figuring this out long ago. "I had Superman for a partner and I never even suspected it for a second. You must think I'm such a dope!"
"Lois, no! You're one of the most brilliant people I know," he told her. "Don't beat yourself up for not seeing something you weren't meant to notice in the first place. I'm really sorry that you had to find out this way. This isn't how I wanted to tell you. Look, I know this is a lot to process and I swear I'll answer any question you can possibly think of, but I need to ask something of you first."
She looked at him, genuinely confused.
"Lois, I need you to promise that whatever is said here isn't going beyond these doors. Can you do that? Please?"
"What? Why? What do you mean?"
"Uh… well, see, you've just discovered that Superman spends a good part of his life hiding behind a suit and tie, pretending to be just the same as any other citizen of Metropolis. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that precisely the kind of earth-shattering story every single reporter in Metropolis — and especially one Lois Lane — has been after ever since Superman showed up? Not to mention I'm pretty confident that the Lois Lane I know would sooner die than give up a story so big it could very well be worth a Pulitzer."
"Touche," she admitted, blushing. "But, I wouldn't… I just… I couldn't *do* that, print that. I swear! You have to believe me, Clark! I know how big a story this is, but if I printed it… then even if we did prove that Superman… err… *you* aren't the cause of the heat wave, well… you'd still never come back, would you?" Her eyes were tearing up again. "I'd not only be depriving the city of a hero we all love and respect — not to mention we really need him here — but I'd be losing my partner in the process. And for what? A front-page story? I can't even begin to imagine what kind of a horrible person would do that… I'm not…" She stopped cold.
Lois shut her eyes tightly as she realized the enormity of what she was going to say. How could she claim she wasn't a horrible person? She was! She had been to him every single day since he'd started working at the Planet. Was she so shallow that she couldn't see beyond the flashy blue and red spandex? It was him in that Suit, yet put a pair of glasses on his nose and… and suddenly she wouldn't give him the time of day? Lois scolded herself silently for being so incredibly blind and heartless. How could she not have noticed… how could she have been so mean!
"Oh, Clark, I *have* been horrible to you, haven't I? I'm so, so sorry. Oh my God, I'm sorry." She turned her back to him as a river of tears ran down her cheeks.
Clark stepped towards Lois and gathered her in his arms. "It's OK, Lois, it's OK. You're not a horrible person, don't you ever say that! I never meant to upset you, I hope you believe me. It's just that… you know… it is newsworthy and as much as I like seeing my name on the front page of the Planet, I like it best when it's next to yours, on the byline."
For a long while, she just stood there and sobbed, letting herself be consoled by him. She'd been awful to him, yet there he was trying to make her feel better. He had such a good heart, he cared so much about everyone else, this above all else was what made him 'super' she thought, not the powers. It was what was inside that made him a hero and that couldn't possibly come attached to a cape or a pair of boots, could it? It came from being raised by a loving family, with good values. It came… well, it came from Clark.
As Lois realized these things, it occurred to her that this meant that what she loved the most about Superman was… Clark. And when she claimed to be completely, hopelessly, and incurably in love with the superhero, what it really meant was that she was in love with… the good-natured farm boy who hid underneath the Suit. Suddenly, the thought of him leaving became completely unbearable to her. She couldn't lose him. Not without ever… Not without knowing… No!! She took a long ragged breath as her legs gave from under her. Had it not been for two strong arms holding her, she would have fallen to the floor like a rag doll.
Clark sat her down and kneeled in front of her. He looked down, then took a deep breath before looking up again. "Lois… please," he finally managed to say after a moment. "Please don't cry anymore. I…"
Lois knew that he was going to tell her that the time had come for him to leave. That he might not ever come back. And he'd apologize… Clark always apologized for everything even when it wasn't even *his* fault. She couldn't let him say these things. She didn't want to hear them!
"No…" was all she managed to get out at first. She wiped the tears from her eyes and took a deep breath. "Clark, don't! You… you can't leave! They're wrong, you know they are. This isn't your fault! We just need to find who's responsible, that's all."
"Lois, even if I'm really not sure what's causing all this heat, it doesn't change anything. I had given them my word. Superman's word. He never lies, you know." He tried to smile.
"But… Clark? It not *you* they've asked to leave, it's… well, it's the other you. Can't you be just you and leave him behind?" Ideas were rushing through her head. Maybe she could convince him to stay, somehow?
"It doesn't work that way, Lois." he said, knowing full well what she was thinking. "Besides, even if I never wore the Suit again, I'd still hear people crying out for help every single day. I can't block that out of my head and pretend there's nothing going on, that no one's in danger, that I'm not Superman. I'm not able to do that, I tried before and, believe me, it just makes everything worse."
"There has to be a way, Clark, there has to! If we just sat down and thought about it for a little while. You and me… together. We solve mysteries on a daily basis, we can find something. We can," she said, hopeful.
"Lois…" he said, pleading. He couldn't let her go on trying to find a solution; he knew perfectly well there was none. "You have to let go. Please… let me go."
He got up and took a few steps back. If he didn't leave soon, Clark felt that he wouldn't ever have the courage to do so. Seeing Lois like this wasn't helping. It always hurt him to see her cry and know there was nothing he could do to ease her pain, but this… this was so much worse! This was Lois practically begging him to stay. Not Superman… it was Clark she was desperately trying to hang on to. *Clark*. If she kept on, he might never find the strength to go.
"No," she said in a trembling little voice.
"I have to, Lois," he sighed.
"No, no…" she whispered, shaking her head as more tears came flooding from her eyes.
Lois stumbled out of her chair, her vision too blurry to see anything clearly and she lunged herself clumsily towards Clark. She wrapped her arms around his neck as tightly as she possibly could. If words weren't working, then she'd just have to hold on to him physically.
"Don't… leave… me… Clark." she hiccupped in-between tears.
Clark closed his eyes. It was all he could do to keep on breathing. He'd felt pain before in his life, but this was the worst pain he'd ever known. There he stood with a woman in his arms, a woman who was desperately trying to hang on to him and who he desperately wanted to hang on to as well. He loved her so much, there weren't even words to express it, and now — against all odds — she was showing signs of actually wanting to be with the real him as opposed to the alter ego he'd created for himself. The mere thought of leaving her behind hurt more than a thousand shards of kryptonite being thrust inside his body possibly could.
"Lois, stop. Please, please stop," he begged her, his voice cracking. He grabbed her hands behind his neck and gently brought them down to her sides.
"You have no idea how hard this is already," Clark continued. "Please, I'm begging you, don't make it impossible for me to go. Superman needs to leave and I can't be me without being him too. There is no other solution for now. Let me go, Lois. Please… I can't keep arguing with you over this. This is… it's… killing me." A lone teardrop fell from his left eye and traced a path down to his chin.
She looked up at him as if for the very last time. "Promise that you'll be back," she implored him, "Clark? Promise me that you'll come back."
"Oh, Lois, how I wish I could," he whispered.
Clark lowered his head slightly and captured her lips in a tender goodbye kiss. He took a step back and proceeded to exit the conference room. As he picked up the box he'd left on his desk, he took one last look at Lois and then he made his way to the elevator before disappearing behind its closing doors. The last sounds he heard coming from the newsroom were of Lois, crying… If he had listened closely enough he might also have heard his heart shattering into millions of pieces.
Meanwhile, in the villain's lair…
The Weather Wizard took his wand and made circular motions with it pointing straight in front of him. The glassy globe set at the end of the rod lit up and turned a bright shade of red before emitting a high pitched sound. As soon as he heard it, the Wizard stopped swirling the wand and set it back down on an end table.
It was done. As the sun rose, the temperature would rise a few degrees more than the previous day. Just enough to match the effort Superman had put into stopping the train.
He strongly suspected the Man of Steel would leave Metropolis before morning, but he knew that he needed to keep up appearances. If the temperature didn't go up again, then people might get suspicious. And the last thing he wanted right now was Superman back in the city!
All the Wizard needed to do now was stage an experiment… Just in case that dreaded Super Boy-Scout had gotten wise and decided to trap whoever it was that had been controlling the weather. The Wizard knew he couldn't risk it. So he had planned a little something that would help prove that Superman was nowhere near Metropolis.
Once he knew for a fact that the whole operation had been a success, he would make the temperature go back down.
There was no need to hurry… with Superman out of the way, he'd have all the time in the world to take over the city. Good things, the Wizard knew, should never be rushed.
When Jimmy came in the newsroom, several hours later, he found Lois sitting on the floor in a corner of the conference room. She had her arms crossed over both knees and her forehead resting on her arms. Something must have really upset her, he thought, because there was an empty box of Kleenex on a nearby chair and several used tissues littered on the floor.
He kneeled next to her. "Lois," he said, concerned, "is something wrong?"
"Jimmy?" she asked, looking over to him, somewhat confused, "What time is it?"
Lois had obviously been crying; her eyes were red and puffy. Jimmy had never seen her like this before and he didn't quite know what to say to make her feel better. She was always so positive and sure of herself. he had no idea how to be around this version of Lois Lane who looked so depressed and defeated. He'd better not find out that some jerk had hurt her, because he'd hunt him down and… well, something like that.
"It's just about 7:00 AM. Would you… uh… like me to get you some coffee?" he offered.
"Oh, no… No," she answered. Coffee… Clark usually brought her coffee in the morning. But he wouldn't be doing that today, would he? She'd never realized how much she counted on that to help start her day on the right track.
"Lois, what's wrong?" Jimmy asked again.
"Oh… it's just… he's gone," she whispered, fighting back a fresh wave of tears.
"Superman?" Jimmy asked, surprised. She'd been crying over Superman? He knew she had a thing for him, but he hadn't realized how bad it really was.
"Yeah, Superman left during the night," she explained as she got up and set out to dispose of the used Kleenex. "But… ah… actually, Clark's gone too. He went back to Smallville."
Jimmy just stood there, gaping at her, the information not quite registering in his brain.
"Is Perry in already?" she enquired, impatiently.
"He's in his office," Jimmy told her.
Lois mumbled a thank you and left the conference room.
At the same time, in another villain's lair…
Livewire had been pacing for hours. She wasn't a very patient woman. She'd never been. She liked when things moved along at a fast pace. She liked action! And this… well, this wasn't going anywhere near as fast as she would have wanted it to!
Why wasn't there anything on the news yet? Why weren't they confirming that Superman was gone? What was taking so long?!
Surely he had to have left by now! It was morning. He'd had *hours* to get the hell out of Metropolis. And being that the man was so good and straight and… *weak*, then for sure he must be gone by now! He would not have stuck around when the people of Metropolis were organizing rallies to make him leave. He was *weak*, he would *cave*!
So why wasn't it all over the news yet?! Stupid reporters! She hated them! All of them! Especially *her*… Lois *Lame*. How could anyone with half a brain swoon over Superman like that? Worse yet, she was his little pet, wasn't she? Of course she was. He *liked* her! Ah! She was so ridiculous, so vain! Livewire smiled at the thought of Lois being left heartbroken.
She let out a dark, wicked laugh. Bruising other people's egos and hurting their feelings gave her such a wonderful high! She used to get paid to do it before that good for nothing so-called 'hero' had ruined her life and taken away her career. Oh how she would make him pay for it! She'd ruin the one thing he cared most about. Yes! She knew exactly what she was going to do!
But first… first she was going to go out and paint the town red. Or rather… electric blue! Damned if she was going to wait all day for the news! She already knew that Superman was gone. She could *feel* it. And she more than definitely deserved a little celebration. A real celebration!
Lois walked into the editor's office, closed the door behind her and let herself drop on the leather sofa.
"Well, he's gone," she said, sadly.
"Yeah, I know," Perry answered, lifting up Clark's resignation letter from his desk. "You OK there, Lois? Because… well… If you need a little bit of time off to adjust? I mean, now's not the best time considering there's so many people MIA already, but if you need it… you know I'd be more than happy to give you all the time off you like. Or a new partner, even, if you want one?"
Lois frowned. "Uh… I meant Superman," she clarified. Why did Perry think she would take losing her partner so hard? Of course she was taking it rather hard, especially given what she now knew about Clark, but Perry wasn't aware of that.
"Oh… yes, of course, Superman," Perry acquiesced. " I thought you knew that… well, uh… Clark resigned."
"Yeah, I know… big city wasn't for him, I guess. It was just a matter of time before he went back to Smallville. I told you he wouldn't last very long," she said, trying to sound as emotionless as she could. She thought it best to keep up the appearance that she didn't care for him much or people would start wondering why Lois Lane had suddenly taken a liking to the 'hack from nowheresville' she kept putting down. She wasn't prepared to explain it to them, not when she was barely coming to terms with it herself.
"Lois… darlin', you know you can't fool me that easy," Perry told her in his best fatherly tone. "Anyone else, perhaps… but this ol' hound dog ain't as gullible as the rest of the pack."
"OK, OK! So I care. It's just, you know… I hadn't realized before… there's a lot of things about him… that I never noticed… and now he's gone and… Oh, Perry, what am I going to do without him?"
In the blink of an eye, Lois had lost perhaps the most important person in her life. She had barely just *found* him and now he was gone. Things felt incredibly pointless now…
"I'm real sorry, honey. Kent was a good reporter — and a good man. And he'll be missed a great deal. But, you know, something tells me he'll come back eventually. When things… cool down a bit, I suppose?"
Lois looked at the editor, puzzled. What did he mean, 'when things cool down'? It almost sounded like… Nah! She had to be reading too much into his comment. Perry didn't know. He couldn't have known! Clark hadn't told *her* until last night and she was his partner, surely he wouldn't have told anyone else either. Of course not!
"Maybe… I mean, I hope so…" she admitted. She would do a lot more than just hope, though; in fact she'd do absolutely everything she could in order for him to come back! "I guess we'll just have to wait and see. Anyway… uh… I hope you weren't planning on having me write something about Superman today, because the thing is… I don't think I can. I… uh…"
"I know, honey. You don't have to worry about that. We've got a great exclusive already, Superman's farewell to Metropolis, courtesy of you know who."
"Yeah, I should have known." Lois shook her head as she realized the irony… He was saying goodbye by saying goodbye. If she hadn't been so downhearted, she might have found it amusing.
"You should go on home and get some shut eye," Perry suggested. "I don't imagine you've gotten a lot of rest the last few days… And, like I said, if you think you need a day or two… you just say the word."
"No, no… I can't take time off… still need to figure this out. Someone's behind this heat wave and I'll be damned if they're going to get away with it that easily!"
Jimmy stormed into Perry's office. "Hey, you gotta see this!" he said, excitedly. "On TV," he added before rushing back out of the office.
Lois got up and walked out, closely followed by Perry. They got over to the TV set in the center of the newsroom and gasped in shock at the images they saw on the screen. Apparently, all the electronic billboards around the city were displaying the same message repeatedly: Superman's 'S' being torn in two halves.
Suddenly, the billboards all went black. Bright sparks of lightning brought them back to life a few seconds later. This time, instead of the big red 'S', they bore a message that read: "Goodbye Superman! We'll miss you!" It was replaced after a moment by the word "NOT" in huge electric blue lettering.
"Who?" Jimmy asked, mystified.
"Oh, I know who that is all right," Lois said through clenched teeth. "Leslie Willis. This little stunt has her name written all over it! She got her get out of jail card a few weeks ago. But how did she…? Perry? The article… it's not been printed yet, has it?"
"No, it got in well after the deadline last night. As far as I know, I'm the only one who's read it yet. Unless she can get into our network and access it?"
"Oh, she most definitely can," Lois confirmed. "But if she had, she would have left some sort of calling card. This girl thrives for the spotlight, if she was going to do anything, it would be grandiose — like the billboards. We'd definitely know if she'd infiltrated our computer network. No… I think she knew already."
"Maybe she just happened to see Superman leaving?" Jimmy suggested.
"Not likely," Lois told him. "No one outside of us three — and Clark — could possibly know that he's gone already. So unless it's just a lucky guess, and my gut feeling is that it's not, then that means she knows. And if she *knows*, then it means she's got something to do with all this!"
"But Lois," Jimmy started, shaking his head, "all she can control is lightning and electricity. You can't generate enough heat through those to cause a heat wave like this!"
"She's probably not working alone, Jimmy," Perry offered.
"That's what I'm thinking," Lois said. "Jimmy, can you find out who her cellmates were when she was inside? We need to know who she's working with!"
Jimmy nodded and scurried over to his desk.
"Perry, I think we need to run Clark's piece as soon as we can. It's exactly what they're waiting for: confirmation. And once they have it, they're bound to get a lot more careless. As long as they think he might still be around, they'll hide. Well, OK, *she* won't," Lois pointed at the TV which showed images of the dazzling light show that was still going on, "but whoever it is she's working with probably will. They must have had a reason for wanting to drive Superman away, so I'm thinking once they find out their plan worked, they're going to want to come out of the shade and… well I don't even want to think about what might happen next!"
"My thoughts entirely," the editor agreed. "Lois, I know if anybody can find a way to save Superman, it's you." He patted her gently on the arm.
Lois nodded and smiled. She hoped she'd found a thread that would lead her right to whoever was doing this. And… oh, when she got her hands on them, she'd give them a piece of her mind!
With that, she walked over to her desk and started digging into Leslie Willis' past and acquaintances.
A few hours later, back at the Wizard's hideout…
"She's going to *ruin* everything!" The Wizard raged. "That nasty little b… is going to ruin it!"
He kicked himself for not keeping a shorter leash on the woman. And for being so stupid as to fall asleep right when he knew that things would start moving along. So much for the experiment he'd spent all night planning for, he thought. Better act now.
He picked up his wand and swirled it in wide circular motions above his head. When the glassy globe turned a bright shade of blue, he pointed it towards the floor in one sharp motion. The globe became completely transparent for a second and then emitted a high-pitched sound. The Wizard placed the wand back on the end table.
"Let's see just how slippery you are when you're wet!" he said, bursting out in maniacal laughter.
Running Clark's Superman exclusive on the front page of a special edition of the Daily Planet had brought out every single criminal who wasn't currently residing in the pen. Petty thugs and all manner of felons had literally started crawling out of the woodwork. The police had their hands full trying to keep everything under control and it seemed prisons were starting to put up 'no vacancy' signs.
And of course, the temperature had risen again and people were so convinced that Superman was guilty of it by now, that they'd probably scream bloody murder if he were to show his face anywhere near or around the city. Lois knew this would never have happened if she'd only been able to figure out who was responsible for all this mess… She'd lost her edge, she thought. Maybe she should reconsider her career choice?
Suddenly, an enormous black cloud formed over the city. By the time people started noticing its presence, it was already raining over downtown Metropolis. It wasn't just a pleasant little spring shower, either; this was a downpour of cataclysmic proportions.
"Great shades of Elvis," Perry muttered, looking out his window, astounded.
"Lois, Jimmy," he yelled, "get in here, *now*!"
Startled, Lois jumped out of her chair and ran to the editor's office as fast as she could, with Jimmy following closely behind her.
"I sure hope you guys have some idea who's doing this," Perry told them. "'cause if this keeps up, streets are going to become rivers and turn Metropolis into a modern Venice!"
Meanwhile, somewhere in Central City…
"Hey, honey, have you seen the news?" Iris asked her husband. As soon as she'd seen what was going on in Metropolis, she'd called him at the forensics lab where he worked.
"No, not since this morning. Why? What's up?" he asked. Her enquiring whether he was aware of something going on could only mean one thing…
"Turn on channel four, you won't believe what's going on in Metropolis!"
"Metropolis?" he wondered, switching the TV on.
"Yeah, you know how I told you they were having a heat wave there, of all things! I just knew it looked suspicious… And the worst part is they thought it was Superman doing that. I hear they drove him right out of the city. Of course, they couldn't have known… but… I wish I'd put two and two together sooner!"
"Holy…" he mumbled, in disbelief as he saw images of the torrential rains that were pouring over the city.
"No kidding!" Iris remarked. "You know what that means, right?"
"I'm off to see the Wizard?" he quipped.
Iris couldn't help but smile. He could make even the worst things sound so amusing…
"I'll call…" she started to say, but he interrupted her immediately.
"He won't be there, Iris."
"I wish you'd quit trying to think faster than I do, it's the only race you'll never win…" she told him, teasingly. "I know *he* won't be there, but he does have a partner at the Daily Planet, right? I'll just talk to her. She must know how to get a hold of the guy! Besides, I can fax her my notes on Mardon, I'm sure they'll come in handy. You… you just need to go and help out!"
"Ok, well, I'll be in Metropolis in a flash," he chuckled. "Just make sure they get Supes back there, pronto. See if you can't get A.C. as well, maybe? Cause I'm going to need all the super friends I can get if we're going to put things right. I sure can't do all this on my own."
Lois had gone back to her desk, completely shocked. What on earth was going on out there? It wasn't simply about saving Superman anymore — there were people out there who were in danger of *drowning* just because they'd gone out today! She launched a search on her computer in a desperate attempt to find any sort of information about weather control. It sounded unbelievable that anyone could actually do such a thing, but the evidence was out there, falling from that enormous black cloud, high above their heads…
"Lois, line 2, there's a…" Jimmy called out, but Lois had answered before he could get the rest of his sentence out.
"Lois Lane," she said, picking up the phone.
What was it with her, Jimmy wondered. She kept interrupting him right before he was able to give her useful information. He shrugged.
"Ms. Lane? Hi, my name is Iris Allen; I work for the Picture-News in Central City. You're Mr. Kent's partner, I believe?"
"Yes, but…" she sighed. "I'm sorry… uh… Mr. Kent has left the Daily Planet." Just speaking his name felt like something sharp was stabbing through her heart. She closed her eyes for a second, trying to contain her emotions.
"I'm sorry, yes, I thought he'd probably have left… My husband Barry is a good friend of his. We're aware of the 'situation'."
Lois caught herself right on the verge of asking which situation she meant, the real one or the one he'd invented… If she'd done that, she might have given away things she'd sworn she was going to keep to herself. And she didn't even really know who she was talking to! Keeping this secret was going to take a lot more restraint than what Lois was used to, she thought.
"I'm sorry? I'm not real sure I'm following you…" she said, choosing her words carefully. Playing dumb was probably her best bet.
For a second, Iris wondered whether or not Lois knew just what situation she meant. If Clark Kent was anything like Barry Allen, then he might not have told a soul that he had a 'super' alter ego. Mmmm… But, then again, this was Lois Lane she was talking to! Surely she must have figured it out on her own — this woman had a reputation for being one of the top investigative reporters in the country! And if Iris had figured out Barry's secret so easily, then for sure Lois would have realized who Clark really was… Of course, she was also probably a lot brighter than to spill the beans to just about anyone who claimed to know her partner.
"Listen, the reason I'm calling is, well, I think I have a pretty good idea what's causing the heat and the flood-like rains in Metropolis." Iris said finally, completely avoiding the 'other' subject.
How could someone from Central City have figured this whole thing out? Lois was just about certain that she'd lost her edge now. Not only had she been forced during the night to admit that she was completely blind, but now she had people from out of town scooping her? Maybe a change of career *was* in order!
"Well, I think so anyway… I'm going to fax you some documents, press clippings and some of my notes on a madman who calls himself the Weather Wizard."
"The who? What?" This conversation was getting stranger by the second.
"The Weather Wizard, Ms. Lane," Iris explained. "His real name is Mark Mardon. We've seen a lot of him around here in Central City over the past few years. This man has the ability to control the weather. He has some sort of metallic wand that he's made using scientific data that his brother was working on at the time he was murdered. I would guess that his brother's violent death has probably pushed him over the edge… Anyway, the bottom line is he can do just about anything weather-wise as long as he's yielding that wand. I've actually seen him create tornadoes out of thin air with it. Kind of scary!"
"I don't doubt it is. And you think this wizard person has caused all this insane weather we've been having in Metropolis? Why would he do that?" Lois asked, perplexed.
"Well, I can't be absolutely sure why, but I've just spoken to one of my contacts here and word is that he's joined up with a group of criminals that are calling themselves the Superman Revenge Squad."
"Oh my God!" Lois whispered in astonishment. There was a Superman *Revenge* Squad? The lengths to which these people would go… unbelievable! She wondered if Clark knew anything about them. Was that what it was really like, being Superman? Besides the rescues, she thought, was he always trying to thwart criminals that were out to get him? How could he live like that and not tell a soul? She felt even worse now for being so dismissive of him. He deserved far better than to be treated like this. And if she ever got a chance to, she promised herself that she'd do whatever it took to make it up to him.
"I'm sorry it took us so long to put two and two together over here…" Iris told her, genuinely regretful. If she'd only realized what was happening over there, she knew it would have saved a lot of people from being hurt — physically for most and emotionally for at least one of them. "It hit me when I saw the news just a bit earlier. I thought the heat wave was odd, but I don't know, it didn't really strike me before. Although now I have to say it's just about crystal clear. In fact, from what I can see, the electric generator, the train and other recent so-called accidents fit the M.O. of the supposed other members of this team. It makes perfect sense…"
Lois could not believe what she was hearing. Someone had actually been engineering disasters just so they could pin the blame on Superman for a heat wave they were controlling as well? You really had to be a madman for such a thing to even begin to make sense at all!
"You know, if I'd been more observant myself, I might have realized that the generator incident could only have been caused by Leslie Willis. I knew she was out of jail," Lois admitted, remorsefully, "and for crying out loud, witnesses all said they'd seen a lightning bolt shoot directly into that generator." She really was completely blind, wasn't she? No wonder she couldn't see past a pair of glasses!
"Leslie Willis?" Iris inquired. "Does she go by the name 'Livewire' by any chance?"
"Yeah, that's her. She got her powers in a freak accident last September during a thunderstorm," Lois explained. "She's been inside for a while, but she got out a couple of weeks ago. On good behavior, of all things! We really should have kept a closer watch on her. I should have known!"
"Well, then I guess we've got our culprits. Because, according to my contact, that Livewire woman is affiliated with the SRS for sure."
"Ms. Allen? Uh… Why are you telling me all this? I mean, why aren't you breaking the news yourself? You've obviously figured out a whole lot more than I did, and you could have gotten the rest of it from just about anyone here in Metropolis. So why get in touch with me?"
"Ah, well, it's just that The Flash is on his way to Metropolis — the Wizard is an old nemesis of his — but Superman's help would really come in handy. I'm going to get in touch with Aquaman as well, but I have no idea how to contact Superman… I thought maybe you'd be able to get him to come back?"
The Flash, Lois had heard about before, but Aquaman? Geez, how many of these guys were there? Whatever his powers were, though, with all the rain that was falling from the sky, an Aquaman would certainly be useful.
"I wish I had any idea how to get in touch with Superman. I don't know where to find him," Lois admitted, annoyed at herself for not getting Clark to tell her where to find him.
"Can't you… uh… get in touch with Mr. Kent? I know how close he is to Superman. I figured you'd be our best shot at getting in contact with him." Maybe Lois really didn't know, Iris thought.
Close to Superman? That's the understatement of the century, Lois thought. But why would Iris say such a thing? Before she found out they were one and the same, Lois might have referred to Superman as being a friend of Clark's, just like he was a friend of hers, but she would never have thought of them as being especially close…
"I'll see what I can do," she told Iris finally.
"In the meantime, let me fax you the press clippings and notes I have about these people," Iris offered. "I hope it helps bring them to justice! That Weather Wizard, especially. He's been a thorn in our side for a long while now. I'm just sorry that when we thought he was gone for good that he was actually just hiding out in Metropolis instead."
"Well, you know, criminal masterminds aren't always easy to figure out. Thanks for sending me the information. I'm sure it'll make a great case against these people once they're caught."
"Trust me, Lois, nothing would make me happier than to know that demented Wizard was behind bars for good," Iris told her. "He's gone after my husband a few times more that I care to remember."
After her husband? Who could she be married to that some crazy weather-controlling freak would want to go after?
Just then, Lois caught a glimpse of the images of downtown Metropolis, which were being broadcast on TV. It seemed The Flash had just arrived.
Oh… wait a second! *That* was who she was married to, wasn't it? Pieces of the puzzle were starting to fall into place in Lois' head. She smiled at the knowledge that she still "had it" after all. Maybe she simply had a blind spot when it came to guys in *blue* spandex. Thankfully, she only knew one like that…
"Iris?" Lois said, before the other woman could hang up. "Listen, don't worry, I'll find a way to get Superman here and… uh… we'll send The Flash back to you in one piece."
"I hope so," Iris whispered.
Lois thanked Iris again and hung up. She hoped things would turn out ok. Having gotten a taste of what her life might be like without Clark in it, she could imagine just how painful it would be for someone to lose their *husband* while he was out saving innocent people from certain doom.
Ever since he'd seen the first images of The Flash on TV, Jimmy had been completely mesmerized. He was glued to the television set, trying to catch a good look at the superhero, even though all anyone could really see of him were red blurs appearing and disappearing about as fast as one could blink.
The longest they'd seen of him was a few seconds when he'd stood on top of a Hummer and yelled out something which didn't make any sense to most people at the time. "Hey Wiz-man," he'd shouted as loudly as he could, "Will you stop it with the rain already? It's not them you want. Not when you can have me instead!" And then he'd vanished in a red blur again.
Jimmy was in awe. That guy really had cojones, he thought. And what a neat costume, too!
"Hey Jimmy," Lois called out to him for the third time. "Yoo-hoo? Jimmy, you listening to me at all?"
"Huh? Oh, sorry, Lois," he answered, barely taking his eyes off the TV screen for a second. "Have you seen? The Flash is here! He's so cool! Hey, I'll bet this guy is even faster than Superman!"
"Oh come on, Jimmy, of course he's not faster than Superman!" What a ridiculous notion, Lois thought, as if anyone could possibly be better than Superman at anything! Just then, she remembered that the guy in the Suit with the flashy red 'S' whom she was putting on a very high pedestal was… well, *Clark*. It felt so strange to think that he had all these amazing powers. He could fly, for Pete's sake! She shook her head. She really needed to stop idolizing Superman or she'd never be able to work with Clark again without making an absolute fool of herself. She wondered if she'd ever get a chance to in the first place — what if he didn't come back? She shook her head again, hoping it would chase away that thought.
"Yeah, well, I say he's faster!" Jimmy told her, sounding very sure of himself.
"You know what? I really don't care who's faster or stronger or whatever, as long as he's around to help. Anyway… Jimmy, I have to step out for a few minutes, but I'm expecting a fax from the Picture-News in Central City. The second it gets here, can you make sure a copy of it is sent to Inspector Henderson at Metro PD for me?"
"A fax? Yes, yes, OK. I'll do that."
"You'd better!" she told him stepping right in front of him and blocking his view of the TV set in the process.
"Yes, Lois, I will. Now would you move out of the way, I'm missing all the action!"
"What action?" Lois mumbled as she walked away. "All they can see are short streaks of red every few seconds. Pfff!"
Lois made her way to the storage room and then locked the door behind her. She guessed that this would probably look suspicious if anyone had seen her do it, but she knew they were all staring at the television screen hoping to catch a glimpse of that Flash character. Good thing, she thought, because this way no one would think of coming over to eavesdrop either.
She turned on her cell phone and dialed, hoping there would be someone to answer the call.
She heard one ring… and another… and a third… and then she lost count… Finally, Martha Kent picked up. Lois felt waves of relief rushing through her.
"Mrs. Kent, Hi! It's Lois. Uh… Lois Lane. From the Daily Planet. You remember me, don't you?"
"Lois, honey, yes of course I remember," Martha answered "How are you holding up over there?"
"Oh… Me? I'm Ok, it was kind of a shock, you know, things happened so quick and then they asked him to leave and… well, of course now we desperately need his help to catch these lunatics, but we don't know where he's flown off to. You wouldn't happen to know where he's hiding out, would you?" Lois was so nervous she was starting to babble.
"Who? Superman? Why would we…"
"Oh, oh… it's OK…" Lois interrupted, "you don't have to pretend… I know…"
"Whatever do you mean?"
"I mean I know… that Clark is… well… him."
"Lois, you're not making any sense, honey…" Martha said, slightly worried. Did Lois really actually know, she wondered?
"You made the suit for him… I know. The whole secret identity… Clark told me before he left last night. Well, I figured it out actually, but that's not important how I know, is it? I just do. Listen, I really, really need to get in touch with him. The city's about to be flooded and The Flash is here but we need Superman, too. Oh and we know who caused the heat. It's not him, it never was. I knew all along it couldn't be him, I told him, too, but I think he was too heartbroken to listen to anything I was saying at the time…" She was babbling uncontrollably now. "Poor guy, I can't imagine how it feels to be told you need to leave like that after all he's done for us, it's just so cruel. And he's such a good man… I mean, you know… Well, obviously, you would, since…"
"Lois?" Martha interrupted, laughing softly.
"Oh, oh sorry… I lose track of my own thoughts sometimes when I'm stressed. So, anyway, do you happen to know where he is?" She closed her eyes tightly, hoping the answer to come would be a yes.
"Well, I'm not exactly sure, but…" she started saying.
"Oh," Lois interjected. "I'm sorry… I just assumed you'd be aware of his whereabouts. It must be hard on you guys too? This whole thing turned into such an awful mess. I still can't believe they made him leave like that."
"You know, honey, it's not the first time Clark's had to pack up and leave on a moment's notice. We're pretty much used to getting that call and finding out that he's had to fly off to some other remote part of the world that we've often never even heard of. It's a lot harder on him than it is on us, though. Poor sweetie, it breaks his heart every time — and well… it's so much worse this time around, what with all the friends he'd made and… well he'd found his calling and his purpose in Metropolis, you know?"
"Mrs. Kent? When you speak to him… tell him we've got proof he's not responsible for the heat, tell him we need him to come back. Oh… and… uh… would you… uh… tell him… I miss him," Lois' voice cracked on the last few words. He hadn't been gone a full 24 hours, yet it felt like a lifetime ago that he'd said goodbye.
"Oh, honey, you can tell him yourself. He's standing right here."
"What? He is? But I thought you said you didn't know where he was?" Lois asked, confused.
"I didn't… You just didn't let me finish. I was trying to say that I wasn't sure but that I thought I'd seen him land near the barn a few minutes ago," Martha told her. "Here, let me put him through."
"Did you mean that?" Clark asked, once he'd grabbed the phone from his mother.
"Mean what? I haven't said anything!"
"Not directly to me, no…"
"You mean…? You heard that?" Lois felt herself turn bright red. He'd heard?
"That's why it's called 'super-hearing', Lois," he teased.
"Oh," she whispered. A second later, as her wits returned to her, she continued, "Look, now's not the time to try and be cute, Clark. The city is about to be flooded! We need you!"
"Flooded?" Clark asked, astounded. He had had no idea of what was going on in Metropolis since he'd left. He'd spent a good deal of time sitting atop one of the great pyramids of Giza where a rise in temperature would hardly make any difference at all. On a whim he'd decided to stop by Smallville before deciding on where he was going to go to start over this time.
"Yes, yes, flooded. There's this guy who controls the weather. Everything, it's all his fault. And now for whatever reason he's making it rain. It's like he's trying to cover the city in water or something. God only knows why," Lois explained, in full babble mode again. "I found out from Iris Allen, she explained about the Weather Wizard and everything. The Flash is in Metropolis now, and she said something about an Aquaman, too? But we need Superman, Clark!"
"Flash? In Metropolis?"
"Well, yes, that Wizard guy, Iris said he was an old rival of his, so he came to help. Oh, you have no idea of the chaos that's been reigning here since this morning, you wouldn't believe it. I see it and I can barely believe it myself. So you see, you really need to come back! Plus, you know, I promised Iris that we'd send her back her husband in one piece!"
"Iris' husband? You mean Barry? What's he got to do with this?" Clark asked, pretending not to know.
"Oh, come on, Clark, don't play dumb with me. He's The Flash! You *know* that."
"Yeah, I do. I'm just surprised that you do too…"
"Well, of course I do. I'm not blind, you know!" Lois told him defiantly.
Just a little bit, he thought. But he knew better than to say that out loud.
Seeing that he wasn't answering, Lois continued impatiently, "So, are you coming or what?"
"Well… you haven't answered my question," Clark said, playfully. He knew this might be pushing his luck just a little bit, but he all but ached to hear Lois tell him directly what she'd told his mother to tell him just a moment ago. If anything could help heal the pain he'd felt as he'd been forced to leave Metropolis, this was certainly it.
"What question? Clark… there's no time for games!" Lois said as impatient as ever.
"Did you mean it, Lois? What you said before?" he asked again.
"What?" Lois asked, before it dawned on her that he meant the thing she'd told his mother just before he picked up the phone. "Oh, that…?" She swallowed uneasily and continued, her voice barely a whisper, "Yes, of course I meant it, Clark."
Lois waited for an answer but all she heard was static.
"Clark?" she asked. But, still, all she heard was static. She looked at her phone and shook it. What a really awful time to lose the connection she thought, frustrated. Ah well, she guessed he'd be smart enough to take that as his cue to get into his Suit and fly over to Metropolis on the double.
She unlocked the storage room's door and, as she opened it, she found herself starting right at a big red 'S' set over a certain blue spandex suit which she didn't imagine she'd see so soon again. She looked up at Clark's face, amazed at the speed at which he'd shown up there. The Flash had nothing on him for sure, she thought.
"Seriously?" he asked, his eyes intense with unspoken emotion.
Lois just stood and stared for a few seconds. It was the first time she saw him in the Suit, since she'd found out that Clark was Superman. No wonder she'd never really looked that closely as his face when he wore it… it fit just right in all the right places, she thought appreciatively.
"Lois?" he said, with a bemused look. Clark couldn't help but notice she was giving him the once-over.
"Oh…" she said finally, her cheeks reddening. "Yeah," she whispered, and looking him straight in the eyes she added, "seriously."
He smiled and gently brushed the back of his hand against her cheek.
"Now, go!" she ordered him softly, a second later. She would have liked for this moment not to end so soon, but Superman was needed out there! Not to mention it would look mighty suspicious if anyone had seen them standing there right at that moment.
He nodded and, with that, he disappeared in a blur of red and blue.
Lois went back to the newsroom, a bright smile on her face. He was here now and everything would be OK again. Clark — Superman! — was back in Metropolis. The Weather Wizard and that nasty Livewire woman would be caught in no time!
She walked over to Jimmy, who was still glued to the TV set in the hopes of catching a glimpse of The Flash. "Come on, Jimmy," she told him, "grab your camera, we're going out there."
"Lois, are you out of your mind? Have you seen what it looks like on the streets? I'm staying right here where it's safe!"
"No," she commanded, "you're going to get your camera, then we are going to go outside and we're going to get ourselves the best front page material we've had in months."
"You can do whatever you like, but I am not taking a walk in a foot and a half of water!"
"Listen, Jimmy…" Lois pleaded. "There are two, possibly even three, super-powered guys out there trying to stop a madman who's controlling the weather. This is your chance at an award winning photograph, trust me!"
"Yeah, but Lois, Metropolis is a big city," Jimmy argued. "They could be anywhere. Who's to say we're going to see anything besides lots and lots of water? I'm not going to ruin a perfectly good pair of shoes just to make you happy."
"Oh, for crying out loud! For one thing, if you'd actually listened to the news instead of trying to catch a few red blurs on TV, you might have realized that it's not raining anywhere but downtown. And second, Superman is back. I'll take pictures myself if I have to, but I'll be damned if I'm going to let the Star get the exclusive."
"He's back?" Jimmy asked, clearly excited. "Why didn't you just say so? Come on! I know a great place were we can go that's not very far. You know that really big ugly sculpture they're trying to pass off as modern art, in the little park in front of the First Metropolis Bank? We can climb that, there's room for both of us to stand on top. It's high enough that we'll have a great view and we'll be safe from the rising waters. It's perfect!"
Jimmy picked up the camera from his desk and they hurried into the elevator.
Meanwhile, far away from the rain…
"What is *he* doing here?" the Wizard raged, having seen images of The Flash on TV. "He has no business in Metropolis! This doesn't concern him!"
He started pacing. It wasn't useful, he knew, but he just couldn't help it. The Flash was here and his message meant he knew exactly who was behind the weather conditions. How had his plan deteriorated so fast?
It was all *her* fault! Why, oh why, did she have to go and announce to the world that Superman was gone? What else could he have done but try and stop her? He'd known since the second they met that she would be his downfall. She could make his blood boil like no one could and mess with his head in such a way he should never have let her.
That damned flamboyant, impulsive — and insanely beautiful — blue pain in the butt! She'd done what he feared she might do, what he knew she would if he wasn't careful… she'd pushed him right over the edge and he'd reacted in a fit of rage, without thinking of the consequences.
If he didn't find a way out of this fast, he was done for. In the meantime, more rain might help. Maybe he could manage to flush The Flash away?
The Flash had been running around all over the business district for the last few minutes, getting as many people out of harm's way as he could and stopping criminal activity when possible.
It was raining harder than ever now. Perhaps the Wizard hadn't heard his message? He'd been so sure that offering himself on a silver platter, in exchange for the lives of everyone else, would grab the man's attention… Of course, he had no real intention of surrendering just like that — especially not with help he knew should be on the way. Unless the Wizard had gotten wiser and seen right through his ploy? No matter… For now, Flash's only objective was to make sure people were safe. He'd worry about the Wizard if and when he was faced with him.
"Hey, speedy," he heard a man say as he was running out of an alleyway he'd just been checking. He knew of only one person who'd be able to catch up to him if he was running at full speed like this.
Flash stopped on a dime and sank right into the water. "Ugh!" he exclaimed in disgust. He'd forgotten that, considering the speed he was going, he'd been pretty much walking on water.
"It's Flash," he said in a falsely defiant air to the man hovering a few feet above him in the air. "How many times do I need to tell you? *Flash*."
"Right…" the other answered, amused. "And why should I bother trying to get it right when you're going around calling me 'Supes'?"
"It's just… ah… a term of endearment, you know? Cause I like you so darn much!" Flash let out a great big laugh. "Good to see you, big guy. One has to wonder, though… what the hell took you so long? You know, I seem to remember you being almost as fast as I am. What happened? Old age catching up with you?" he added, semi-seriously.
"Oh, don't be so full of yourself," Superman told him, lowering himself until his feet hit the water. "I seem to remember you being almost as fast as *I* am. Besides, from what I understand, you've been here less then ten minutes."
"Yeah, but do you have any idea how many people I've *saved* in those ten minutes?" he replied with a sly smile.
"I suppose if I ask, you're going to tell me you've saved a few million people?" Superman chuckled.
"*Several* millions. You underestimate me, as always," Flash retorted.
"Oh, cut it out, you guys!" said another man, jumping out of the water like a dolphin.
"Hey! A.C., you made it!" Flash grinned widely.
"You're not supposed to call me that," the man whispered, a bit uneasy. "That's the whole point of the costume and the secret identity, you know?"
"Aquaman. I'm sorry," Flash said, with a playful bow of the head. "But, come on, you'd have to be insanely brilliant to figure out what A.C. even stands for! For all anyone knows it could mean 'air conditioning' or 'alternating current' and about a zillion different first and last name combinations. Chill out, will ya!"
"You know, we may all be lightning fast in our own way, but I daresay we're wasting a lot of time arguing over these things," Superman told them.
"Ah, yes, of course, always Mr. Reasonable," Aquaman said with an exaggerated grimace.
Superman raised an eyebrow at him. "Someone needs to be. Especially with you two around."
"Well, look who's being full of himself now," Flash chuckled.
"Ok, let's be serious for a second…" Superman started. "I tried blowing that cloud away, but it just wouldn't budge. We need to find this Weather Wizard quickly or we'll have a New Atlantis on our hands here."
Aquaman's eyes twinkled and he gave them a dreamy, lopsided smile.
"Oh, don't say it!" Flash warned him, "You only get *one* kingdom, your majesty." He bowed before the Atlantean king in a mock salute.
"Worth a try," Aquaman said, shrugging.
"Right… Anyway…" Flash turned to Superman. "I've got a pretty good idea how to stop the Wizard, but damned if I have any idea where to *find* him. I'm not from around here, you know."
"Neither are we, if you really think about it," Aquaman pointed out.
"Maybe, but *he* lives here now," Flash said, tilting his head in the direction of Superman.
"Any ideas how I could find this guy?" Superman asked Flash, ignoring the new debate.
"I'd guess he's hiding a few miles outside the city. He's never right in the middle of the action; he'll be keeping away from the weather conditions he's created. If we went to S.T.A.R. Labs, we could scan for polaron emissions. Those would lead us directly to him, but without the proper equipment, I don't see how…"
"Leave that to me," Superman said, nodding. "You get back to what you were doing," he added, pointing to Flash. Then, pointing to Aquaman, he continued, "And you help him out. I'll find the Wizard."
Aquaman nodded and dove right back into the water before disappearing with a small splash.
"Hey, Supes," Flash started, "sorry… Su-per-man," he then corrected, rolling his eyes at the other man's raised eyebrows, "when you find the guy, I want in on the fight. I owe him for last time."
"You got it," Superman agreed, patting him on the shoulder amicably. This said, he took off to the sky and Flash resumed his search for people to help and criminals to stop.
Meanwhile, high above the rapidly flooding streets of downtown Metropolis…
Livewire had sought shelter under an electronic billboard as soon as she'd noticed the rain starting to fall. A few drops she might be able to handle, but she'd lose her powers and most of her life-force if she got herself any wetter than that.
She'd never been more annoyed at the Weather Wizard! He'd threatened her several times with rain so it was obvious he was doing this just to bug her! He would have picked something with a little more impact otherwise, she was sure of it. Didn't he realize that this sort of stunt was like pointing a gigantic finger right at himself?
Up until now, it had almost been like committing the perfect crime. You don't go looking for someone you don't even realize exists! But no… he had to go and ruin everything. The Flash was here, which meant he'd figured things out. It would be just a matter of time before Superman found out what was going on, too. He'd be back once he knew, of course. And it wouldn't take long before someone connected her to all of this, too. Lois Lane or that overgrown sidekick of hers were a sure bet, you couldn't get any nosier than them!
Oooooh, how she hated, hated, hated the Weather Wizard! How could he be so careless and stupid? He would be so sorry he ever bossed Livewire around. She would make him pay for this. She'd make him pay for everything!
She jumped right into the billboard she was hiding under and disappeared in a blinding blue flash of lightning.
"Up there, Jimmy!" Lois shouted, pointing at the billboard above their heads. "Did you see that? It's got to be her!"
Jimmy was standing in almost three feet of water, trying to climb up the square-ish sculpture he'd suggested they should mount. He'd helped Lois up without too much effort, but getting himself up there with no one to give him a lift was proving to be a little more complicated.
"Well, take a picture, Lois! You've got the camera!" he reminded her. He'd given it to her once she'd been safely up, so that it wouldn't get damaged as he tried to make it up there himself. Of course it was too late now and while they'd seen the lightning bolt, they'd have no pictures of it. So much for being at the right place at the right time…
As Jimmy finally managed to join Lois on top of the sculpture, he realized what a truly harebrained idea this was. They'd be stuck there if it didn't stop raining soon! There had been less than two feet of water in the street when they'd left the Daily Planet and, at the rate rain was falling from the sky, it would be just a matter of minutes before everything was covered in water. And then what would they do? Swim back to the office?
"Lois, you know, I really think we should cut our losses and go back to the Planet."
"You're kidding, I hope?" She glared at him, as frustrated by his comment as by the fact that she was soaking wet.
"No, seriously. If the rain keeps up, we'll be trapped here real quick," he explained. "This was a bad idea, Lois. We're not going to see anything from here. I don't know what I was thinking. We should go back."
"Over my dead body! We came out here for the exclusive and I'm not leaving until we have it!" she told him defiantly.
If there was one thing about Lois that Jimmy both admired and hated, it was her determination. She never let go once she'd made her mind up about something. Sadly, it almost always meant she'd stop listening to reason, much as she was doing now. Much to his regret, getting Lois to change her mind about something wasn't an ability that Jimmy had been blessed with.
He sighed and sat himself down on top of the structure. Perhaps if he was lucky, it would stop raining soon. Or better yet, maybe The Flash would happen to pass by and rescue him from both the rising waters and Lois Lane's hardheadedness…
Shortly after, in the Wizard's lab…
A flash of bright light blinded the Wizard. He blinked furiously for a few seconds. When his eyes got accustomed to the lighting in the room again, he found himself facing what was, quite probably, his worst nightmare.
A seriously pissed off Livewire was standing barely six feet before him. He had never seen her look anywhere near that angry and menacing before. She had both arms extended on her sides, her palms facing the ceiling. Two small balls of electric energy were floating right above her hands.
"Don't!" he cried, crossing his arms in front of his face for protection. "You don't want to do this. Please, listen. We can work this out!"
His wand was several feet away from him. Even if he lunged for it, there was no way he would be quick enough to grab it and use it against her… it would only take *her* a second to react and stun him with bursts of electric energy. His only chance was trying to reason with her. He lowered his arms slowly, but made no attempt to move from his position, hoping she would see this as what he meant it to be: a gesture of trust.
"Work what out? You pathetic excuse for a super villain!" she spat at him, barely restrained fury flashing in her eyes.
"Livewire… my dear friend," he started, in as calming a tone as he could manage, "we have both acted too impulsively this morning. I admit that your display of lights angered me to a degree where I stopped thinking rationally and simply acted. I recognize my error, but surely you realize that, had you not gone out and claimed victory so hastily, this wouldn't have happened."
"The only thing I realize is that you're as incompetent as your brother was brilliant," she replied, knowing perfectly well the effect this would have on the man's ego.
White rage pulsed through the Wizard's veins. She had no right to speak of his brother! Despite himself, he plunged towards the end table on which his wand lay. He would make her take back her words if it was the last thing he did! As he grabbed the metallic object, he heard a sharp whipping sound and found himself surrounded by blue light before everything finally went black.
When he'd seen the blue lightning bolt, an alarm had gone off in Superman's head.
"Livewire?" he wondered out loud. "It's a good thing I've got friends around if she's involved in this, too…"
Lois had told him about the Weather Wizard and he seemed to remember that she'd hinted to the fact that there was something more about this story than simply one man controlling the weather, but he wasn't quite sure anymore. He'd been so busy trying to make her repeat what she'd told his mother that he hadn't bothered much with the rest of the information. He should have asked, he should have tried to get as much details as he could, but all he really wanted was to hear Lois tell him that she'd missed him. And then of course he couldn't stand to wait a single second before he saw her again.
He sighed. Did she have any idea just how much the simple fact that she'd missed having him around had affected him? Before he left, when they were in the conference room, he'd known there was hope that their relationship might evolve into something more than just friendship. But he hadn't really, truly believed it until he'd seen her just a few minutes ago outside the storage room. Seeing Lois and hearing her admitting that she'd really meant what she'd said about missing him had sent his brains and most of his insides into a mad whirlwind.
He shook his head, unsure how he had gone from worrying over Livewire to daydreaming about Lois. She'd had the ability to do that to him in person before, but now it seemed she no longer had to be there to distract him completely and make him lose track of what he was supposed to be doing.
Superman looked closely at the billboard where the flash of light had appeared to come from. There was nothing. He'd lost track of her now, he knew. If he'd paid more attention, he might have been able to follow Livewire as she traveled from the electronic billboard to whatever her destination was. This whole thing with Lois could turn him into a very useless super powered individual if he wasn't careful!
From high above the skyscrapers, Superman took a long detailed look at the city and its surrounding suburbs, in the hopes of noticing something — anything — that might help. He'd definitely need to go by S.T.A.R. Labs to find the Wizard, he knew. Scanning for polaron emissions wasn't exactly something he could do himself. He had no idea what those would even look like to begin with. As he headed towards S.T.A.R. Labs, he caught sight of what looked like a building being engulfed in blue light.
He flew over as close as he needed to be able to use his x-ray vision and peer into the building. Looking inside, he saw a woman whom he instantly knew was Livewire, as she was juggling with balls of lightning, and a man whom he supposed had to be the Weather Wizard.
"There you are," he said with a sly smile. He dove down towards the building and once there, quickly cut off all the power lines leading to it. This way, he knew, Livewire would have only one way out: through the door, like normal people. Hopefully this would prevent her from leaving long enough for him to return with The Flash. He'd promised he'd get him once he'd located the Wizard and that was precisely what he was going to do.
Superman flew back towards the city as fast as he could. Thanks to his enhanced visual abilities, he was able to find his friend in a matter of seconds. He caught up with the Flash as he'd stopped to prevent some small-time criminal from breaking into a jewelry store.
"I'm sorry, Jimmy," Lois apologized. She patted him on the back hoping this would reinforce the sincerity of her words.
She truly was sorry for dragging him along. They'd gotten a few pictures, although most would probably come out as blurry red streaks over barely focused images of unidentifiable buildings… They had nothing else to show for the long minutes they'd spent on top of the structure, getting soaked to the bone. And now they were stuck here, just as he'd said they would be. Lois estimated there were about four feet of water on the ground now. Even if they tried to get back down, the water level was rising so dangerously fast that they were likely to drown before they made it back to the Daily Planet.
Jimmy turned to look at her, frustration so obvious on his face he needed no words to convey all that he felt right at this second.
"Go ahead, say it… tell me that you'd told me so. This might be the only chance you ever get of doing it, you know," she told him in a feeble attempt at humor.
There was absolutely nothing funny about their current situation, but it was worth a try. If anything, perhaps it would prevent Jimmy from hating her until the dawns of time, she thought. Not that he would, of course; he never usually held grudges… But someday, she knew, he'd get so fed up with her ordering him around and dragging him along on suicidal 'missions' that he would start resenting her. This was the only way she knew of doing her job, this was why she was at the top of her profession, because she went out there and got the story, even if it meant walking into a little bit of danger every once in a while. She could not bare the thought of Jimmy hating her for it.
He raised an eyebrow in doubt. Was she really acknowledging the fact that he'd been right? The great Lois Lane, admitting defeat? To *him*? If they got out of this, he'd have to mark his calendar, because this was something that was most unlikely to ever happen again.
She'd asked him to let her have it, hadn't she? Well, he couldn't possibly pass that up, now could he? He broke into a wide grin. "I told you so," he shouted, his head tilted up towards the sky. If he was going to say it, then the whole world would hear it!
"I've found them," Superman told Flash, once they'd made sure the jewelry store wasn't going to be robbed for now.
"The Wizard and his henchmen?" Flash asked.
"One of them, anyway. How many more are there supposed to be?" Superman asked, immediately regretting having admitted to being a bit on the clueless side. He knew all too well that Flash would jump on the opportunity to tease him. He hardly ever missed one.
"Didn't your partner tell you anything? Oh, wait, let me guess," he said, waving his index finger in the air a few times as if to indicate he was trying to figure things out, "you were so happy to hear the sound of her voice you completely forgot to listen to whatever she was telling you at the time. Did I get it right?"
Superman rolled his eyes. Flash had jumped on the opportunity all right. "It's not like that," he said. "She really didn't tell me anything. Besides, what does it matter? I know where to find the Weather Wizard. He's outside of town, in the basement of an old building. He's got Livewire with him. You ever heard of her?"
"Of course I have," Flash confirmed, "my partner always tells *me* the important stuff." He smirked at the other man's growing embarrassment.
"Don't rub it in."
Just then, Superman's super-hearing picked up on something and he reflexively cocked his head to the side, the uneasy expression on his face quickly replaced by a vacant stare. "Shhh," he whispered before Flash could ask him what was going on.
"Ah, damn it!" Superman mumbled. Then, grabbing Flash by the waist in one super fast motion, he flew up into the air.
"Whoa! Would you please not do that? I like having my feet on the ground, thank you very much," Flash complained.
Ignoring his friend's protests, Superman stopped his ascent and then pointed in the direction of the building where he'd spotted the Wizard and said "See that building, way over there? The grayish one? That's where they are. You go ahead without me. I'll be there before you can call for backup anyway."
With that, he flew back down, dropped Flash unceremoniously right into the water and disappeared with a loud "swoosh!" sound.
Flash shrugged. He'd just have to ask about it later…
"Hey, what do you know!" he exclaimed, suddenly realizing that it was no longer raining. "I hope that's a good sign…" he muttered as he headed towards the direction of the building Superman had shown him.
A fraction of a second later, he was standing right in front of it.
Meanwhile, inside the aforementioned edifice…
It took a few seconds before the Wizard realized that everything had turned to black because the lights had gone out. He thought he'd been hit by lightning and lost consciousness for a while, but apparently that wasn't it at all. He couldn't tell where Livewire's energy bolt had struck, but he was definitely unharmed.
"What's going on?" he risked asking. He could not see anything; it was pitch black down there. He didn't even know whether or not Livewire was still there.
"Well, duh. What do you *think* is going on. The power's been cut," she replied, acidly. Talk about having to state the obvious, she thought. How really actually stupid could this man be?
"Can't you do anything about it?" he asked. "You are a walking generator after all, aren't you?"
"Keep your pants on, will you!" she retorted. "I need a second to be able to make out the equipment in here before I can transfer energy into it."
She didn't sound half as annoyed as she had a few seconds ago, the Wizard noted. He wasn't really sure why, but he had a sinking feeling that this wasn't exactly a good thing.
As Livewire sent a small burst of energy onto the neon light affixed to the ceiling, the lights came back up. Immediately, the Wizard found the answer to his question: she'd calmed down because she knew he wasn't a threat to her anymore… His wand lay on the floor, its globe shattered into several big blackened chunks of glass.
He was just Mark Mardon again; the Weather Wizard was no more.
"Well you didn't have to scream," Lois told Jimmy, feigning being wounded by his actions.
He turned to look at her. "I'm sorry," he said, "It's just, you know… if this is the only chance I ever get of saying it, I wanted to have witnesses. Otherwise I know no one's going to believe me when I tell them."
"You look awful, by the way," she told him, trying to refrain from giggling.
"Yeah, no kidding! We look like a couple of wet cats!"
They took a good look at each other and burst out laughing. A second later, they noticed that the rain had stopped.
"Finally!" Jimmy said.
"Yeah, finally!" Lois echoed.
"We're still stuck here for now, though, you realize…"
"Not for long," they heard a familiar voice say, from somewhere above them.
Jimmy looked up, and broke into a wide smile. He hadn't been so happy to see anyone in a very long time!
"Jimmy. Lois." Superman greeted them, lowering himself slowly in front of them.
Lois looked at her feet, her cheeks turning a bright shade of red. He can't see me like this, she thought, I look like a mess! No, no, no! Perhaps he wouldn't notice how absolutely awful she looked if she managed not turn her face in his direction? Lois forced herself to keep looking down.
Jimmy elbowed her gently. Why wasn't she saying anything, he wondered. Superman was there. They were saved. Shouldn't she be all excited or something?
"Lois?" he whispered, "it's *Superman*."
"I know," she whispered back, still not looking up.
Jimmy sighed, exasperated. If someone ever came up with a manual on how to understand women, he'd be the first one to buy it, he thought, because he had *no* clue.
"You do know that I can hear you, don't you, Lois? Is something wrong?" Superman asked, frowning. What was the matter with her?
"No, no," she lied, "everything is fine. Isn't it, Jimmy? We're OK, aren't we? I mean, we're soaking wet and probably on the verge of catching one nasty head cold, but we're perfectly fine otherwise. Right, Jimmy?"
"Huh… Yeah, I guess," Jimmy answered, confused.
"So you see, there's no need to worry about us, we're fine!" Lois continued, still staring intensely at her feet.
"Well, I would hate to leave you here," Superman told them, "but if you're positive that you're fine, there's a wizard and a woman with an electric personality that need to be taken care of rather urgently… You will stay here until I get back, won't you, Lois?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Lois spat at him, looking up for the first time. How dare he take that condescending tone with her! She realized of course that he'd be seeing just how ghastly she looked, but she no longer cared. "I'll have you know that I could very well get back to the office on my own, *if* I wanted to!"
"Lois!" Jimmy interjected. Had she completely lost her mind? She'd been known to snap at Clark like that — pretty much on a daily basis, actually — but, geez… this was Superman she was throwing a hissy fit at. Superman! She seriously needed her head examined!
"I'm… sorry," Superman apologized, his eyebrows raised in confusion. Obviously he'd stuck his foot in his mouth, he thought, but he wasn't entirely certain what he'd done wrong. He'd done nothing that he wouldn't normally have done when he wore the Suit. Unless that was the issue? Perhaps it hadn't occurred to her that he would still always behave as two different people unless they happened to be alone together…
Jimmy was just as confused… First Lois had started acting like Superman was just an ordinary guy she could push around and now Superman was apologizing to her? What the heck for? What was going on around here? Had everyone completely lost their minds?
"Oh, God… I didn't mean that! I'm so sorry!" Lois' eyes grew wide and she slapped her hand over her mouth as she realized her faux pas. He wasn't being condescending, he was just being Superman. This was how he always acted when he wore the Suit. Of course he behaved differently depending which side of himself he was supposed to be at the time. This would definitely take some getting used to, she thought.
"We'll be fine," she said after a moment. "Right, Jimmy? You have more important things to worry about than us crazy folk sitting on top of a modern-art sculpture. We'll be OK as long as it doesn't start raining again."
"I'll come back for you as soon as I can," Superman promised before he flew off.
For a second, Jimmy wondered if he should ask Lois why she'd freaked out, but then decided against it. Perhaps it was just that time of the month. Besides, they were sitting on a very small surface and the last thing he wanted was to be sharing the space with Mad Dog Lane for… well, who knew how long it would take before Superman got back?
"Why didn't you go inside already?" Superman asked Flash once he got to the Wizard's hideout.
"Oh, uh… I dunno," Flash answered, somewhat nervously. "I figured maybe it would be best if we got in there together. Not that I… uh… I'm not afraid of him or anything, you know, but… ah… he nearly killed me last time and now there are two of them and… I guess I thought it would be best to stay on the safe side. You know, being as though I'm not invulnerable…"
Superman smiled and nodded. "Wise idea. Now let's go crash their party! You take the front door, I'll take the back."
Both men sprinted towards the entrance they'd agreed upon. They broke down the doors and entered the building, heading to the basement at super speed.
There was a loud noise as the doors were torn off their hinges. Livewire jerked her head towards the front of the room, knowing it wouldn't be long before she saw someone appear there. Before she had time to say anything, however, Superman and Flash were already in the room with them.
"I… I surrender," Mardon announced, slowly raising his hands above his head, "I'm no longer able to control the weather, my wand's been destroyed. I… uh… I can't harm you."
Flash grabbed an electric cable and quickly bound the former Weather Wizard's hands together. "I don't trust you anyway," he told the man.
Meanwhile, Livewire had sent a few bolts of lightning in the direction of Superman. The last one had hit him square in the chest and he'd been thrown clear across the room, crashing into a wall. He shook his head sharply, trying to recover from the stunning effect that this had had on him. He sent a long burst of super breath in her direction. This wasn't nearly as effective as water, he knew, but it had proven useful against her before.
Knowing he was even more vulnerable to her attacks than his friend was, Flash shot out of the room as fast as he could. Hopefully, Superman would be able to fend her off by himself for a moment.
Flash had noticed a garden hose lying in the grass, outside the building. He was aware of the fact that water would slow Livewire down considerably. He went out and connected the hose to the water line, then turned the faucet. Thankfully, the building still had running water. He broke one of the basement windows and aimed the nozzle gun towards Livewire before releasing the trigger, thereby sending a powerful jet of water directly at the woman.
"Aaargh!" she screamed. A minute later, she sank to the floor, as most of her life force had escaped her.
"Turn it off! Flash! Turn the water off or you'll kill her!" Superman shouted. He ran over to Livewire and picked her up from the puddle of water she was lying in.
Flash turned the water off as instructed and ran back into the basement.
"I'm going to fly her to the police precinct," Superman explained. "Bring him along," he added, pointing to Mardon. "I'm sure Inspector Henderson will be glad to get his hands on these two."
With that, he made it out of the building and headed back towards downtown Metropolis. Flash grabbed Mardon, threw him over his shoulder and ran out in the same direction.
"We're grateful for your help." Inspector Henderson thanked Superman and Flash. "There's enough in here to put them away for a very long time," he added, showing them the fax that he'd gotten earlier from Lois.
"I hope so," Flash said. "I've had about as much of Mark Mardon as I can take in this lifetime, believe me! And I'm sure Supes here wishes he'd never met the man…"
At the other man's raised eyebrow, Flash quickly corrected himself. "Right… I'm sure *Superman* wishes he'd never met the Weather Wizard. How's that, Mr. Superman, sir? Better?"
Both men smiled at each other, clearly trying to contain their laughter.
Henderson shook his head. The scene was so incongruous, he could barely believe he was witnessing it. Grown men, clad in flashy skin-tight spandex, acting like a couple of teenage kids. No doubt they lived in some fantasy world where their only concern was showing up to save the day. "They'd never survive living in the real world, like the rest of us," he thought to himself with a sigh.
"You know," the inspector said finally, "Lois Lane can sometimes be a royal pain in the butt — make that most of the time — but I have to hand it to her, she really came through on this one. Pity she couldn't get her hands on this before, might have prevented that biblical-sized deluge out there."
"We'll do everything we can to help clean the mess up," Superman told him.
"In the meantime, I'll get these two transferred to the state prison. Oh, and I'll make sure that nasty little injunction disappears."
"Thank you, Inspector," Superman said, obviously relieved.
With that, Henderson went back to his office where a pile of paperwork was waiting for him.
As they left the precinct, Superman instructed Flash to go back on his patrol.
"I've got something to take care of," he explained. "I'll be right back and then we can find Aquaman and figure out way to pump the water out of the streets."
"You have 'something' to take care of? Don't you mean 'someone'?" Flash teased.
"Yeah, I guess that would be one way of putting it," Superman admitted. No point in denying it, he thought, his friend was obviously a lot more perceptive than he'd have liked him to be.
"Is that the same someone you had to rush to before? Because it occurs to me that you must have had one heck of a reason to fly me up and drop me in four feet of water like that… If I had to guess, I'd say it's probably that pretty partner of yours. You know, the one you say keeps finding herself smack in the middle of trouble all the time…"
"What makes you think that?"
"Oh, come on, Supes! You have the hots for her, it's written all over your face!"
"Quit trying to psycho-analyze me, will you! There are more important things to do."
"Yeah, like getting back to your damsel in distress, no doubt!" Flash chuckled. "I knew it!" he added, with an air of self-satisfaction as he noticed his friend's growing embarrassment.
"Oh, drop it, Mr. Know-It-All!" Superman snapped back before he flew off like a rocket.
"The Wizard and Livewire are in custody," Superman told Lois and Jimmy, once he got back to the sculpture they were still perched on. "We're going to get rid of all this water as soon as we can. In the meantime, I suppose you two would like to get off this… what is that thing supposed to be, anyway?"
"Beats me!" Jimmy replied, standing up. "But I wouldn't mind not seeing it again for a very long time…"
"Me either…" Lois added. She took the hand Jimmy was extending her and got up to her feet as well.
"I'm sorry," Superman said, "I should probably have thought about doing this earlier."
"Doing what?" Jimmy asked, puzzled.
"This…" Superman answered. He seemed to stare at Jimmy's feet for a second and then looked all the way up from his ankles to his head.
Jimmy felt a strange warmth that started at his feet and slowly ran all the way to his head. A short few seconds later, his clothes were completely dry again. "Oh! That? Wow! I didn't know you could do *that*! Thanks!"
Superman turned to Lois with the intention of drying her off as well.
Her eyes grew wide as she remembered that lasers weren't the only things the man could do with those beautiful brown eyes of his… Uh oh!
"Uh… Superman?" she said, waving her hand frantically, hoping he'd understand this meant 'no'. "That's just heat right… I mean… no x-rays or anything?"
"Oh, come on, Lois!" Jimmy said, laughing. "What d'you think? That he's going to sneak a peak at your underwear? I doubt he's interested in knowing what color it is!"
She elbowed him sharply. If she'd felt awkward before, she was now blushing like crazy and wished very hard that she was somewhere else. It was insane, she knew. Superman would never do such a thing, he just wasn't like that! But for some reason Lois couldn't get the idea out of her head. No, Superman would definitely not x-ray through her clothes like that, but… she wasn't entirely certain she trusted *Clark* not to look.
"Just heat, I promise," Superman confirmed.
"Um… Ok, then," Lois said, shutting her eyes as tightly as she could. Oh, she wasn't afraid he'd hurt her — she trusted him completely in that respect — but she didn't think she could stand there watching him work the heat vision on her. He'd be looking, probably in great detail, at every inch of her body and it made her feel self-conscious and uncomfortable. Not that she felt uncomfortable about her body — she rather thought it was in pretty nice shape, actually — but being stared at so intensely, especially by this guy whom she had strong feelings for, *that* was something else!
Lois opened her eyes again once she no longer felt the wave of warmth from the heat vision. Superman was still staring at her, though, she noticed. She looked away, blushing again. "Thank you," she said softly.
He cleared his throat before he spoke again. "I'm not sure I'm able to fly both of you at the same time. If you don't…"
"Take Jimmy back first," Lois interrupted, "I'll wait." This way, she knew, she'd have a few more minutes alone with him. She wasn't really sure what she wanted them for exactly, especially since his being there now was doing strange things to her insides, all she knew was that she wanted those extra minutes alone with him. She wanted them very badly.
"Are you sure, Lois?" Jimmy asked, surprised.
"Yeah, Jimmy, I owe you for dragging you here against your better judgment. I'll wait."
Actually, as long as Lois got her turn to fly with him, it didn't matter to her if Superman first had to transport the entire city of Metropolis all the way to Central City, one person at a time. She'd wait as long as it took.
"I'll be back in just a few minutes," Superman told her before he picked up Jimmy and flew off in the direction of the Daily Planet.
Barely five minutes later, he was back again. He hovered in front of Lois for a second, as if he was trying to decide what to do next. He'd been looking forward to being alone with her — not to mention flying with her — but now that the moment had arrived it made him unusually nervous. Finally, he joined her on the structure.
As she found herself mere inches from him, Lois suddenly felt light-headed. She tried taking a step to her right, to steady her balance, but ended up staggering dangerously close to the edge of the sculpture instead.
"Careful," he said, grabbing her gently by the shoulders so she wouldn't fall off into the water.
"Thank you," she whispered, slightly shaken.
"Ready to go?" he asked. As much as he would have liked to stay there with her and let the rest of the world take care of itself, he couldn't in good conscience let his friends take care of fixing the mess that was now Metropolis all by themselves.
Lois nodded in approval. Superman picked her up in his arms and a second later they were airborne.
Flying with him seemed so strange now, she thought. It used to thrill her to no end, but it wasn't the same anymore. Now that she knew that Clark was Superman, it just felt strange. Like she was in a science-fiction movie, when she would have liked to be in a romance novel instead. She hoped this was just temporary, that once the strangeness of situation had passed, she would once again experience the indescribable mixture of freedom and happiness that always came from flying with Superman.
"Clark? Uh… I can still call you that, right?"
"Yes, of course. Unless I'm wearing the Suit and there's people around, I mean…"
"Oh, right. Of course."
"What is it?" he asked after a moment as he realized that Lois was staring at him as if she'd never seen him before.
"Oh… nothing. This is going to sound so stupid! It's just… Well… You can really, actually fly."
He chuckled. "Lois, you've seen me do it dozens of times already!"
"Well, no, not really… I mean, I've seen Superman fly before. Yes, yes, I know, you *are* Superman. You're him right now to the rest of the world, as a matter of fact, I know. But it's just… I don't know how to explain it… I never in a million years would have pictured Clark Kent being able to fly! It's *so* strange to think it's you under there, Clark. You have no idea! I mean, I really believed you were a farm boy from Kansas…"
"That's probably because I am a farm boy from Kansas, Lois. I did actually grow up on a farm, you know."
"You did? Oh… I thought… Ah, never mind! It's really hard to wrap my head around the fact that you're more than just that, you know. It's all so very confusing."
"I understand," he told her, reassuringly. "Once all this… madness… is over, we can take some time and talk about all of that, if you like. I said I'd answer any question you could possibly think of and I meant it. So long as you promise you won't print it, I'll tell you everything you ever wanted to know about me."
"Yeah, I'd like that," she said, smiling at the prospect of finding out all his secrets.
"Looks like we're here," he announced.
Superman flew in one of the opened windows, just as he had done a few minutes before with Jimmy. He gently set Lois down.
"Well, I better be going back," he told her in apology.
"Superman? We'll see you again, won't we?" Lois asked, mostly for herself, but taking care of formulating her question in a way that anyone else might think she was trying to get a quote for an article.
"I'll be around," he promised, then he turned back towards the window and flew off.
Several hours later, in Perry White's office…
Lois stepped into the editor's office, then closed the door behind her and sat down on the leather couch. "Perry? I wanted to ask you a favor…"
"Have you decided you wanted some time off after all?" he inquired.
"No, no, I don't want time off. I.. uh… I wanted to ask if… uh… you remember you said that if I wanted a partner again, you'd give me one? Well, I was wondering if… I could get to chose? I mean, for instance, if I asked for someone in particular, do you think there's any way you could make that happen?"
Perry smiled warmly. He'd hoped that Clark might want to come back to the Planet… He was more than prepared to shred his letter of resignation to pieces — he'd very much like to be able to pretend the thing had never existed in the first place, in fact. He had not, however, expected Lois to come begging for her partner to be reinstated. There may be hope for these two after all, he thought.
"Why, of course! When you see him, just tell him to get his butt back here as soon as he can."
See him? Who did Perry think she meant? For all anyone knew, Clark was in Smallville and he wasn't planning on coming back…
"Um… Chief? I don't think we're talking about the same person here," Lois told him. Whoever it was that the editor thought she was talking about, she didn't want *them* as her partner! She wanted Clark back!
"I think we are," he said, with a sly smile. "Unless you've actually got someone new in mind?"
"Someone… new? Oh, no, no! I don't want anyone *new*!"
"Then, like I said, when you see him, tell him to get his butt back in the newsroom before I change my mind."
He couldn't have known, could he? Really? Lois suddenly found herself connecting dots in her head for the second time in as many days. This sure would explain the comment Perry had made about Clark possibly coming back when things 'cooled down', though, wouldn't it?
"Perry? You mean… you… know?" she asked careful to be as vague as possible. Just in case it was just a coincidence and he really didn't know, then at least Clark's secret would still be safe.
"What? That he's…" Perry traced an 'S' in the air with his index finger. "Of course I know."
Lois jumped to her feet, her cheeks reddening with anger. "Well isn't that just great! I suppose everybody knows and I was the only one left that was completely clueless? Ooooh! Wait 'til I get my hands on him… that… that… lying slimeball! You know what? I think I *do* want a new partner!"
She stormed out of the office and slammed the door behind her. How could he have told Perry already? Friends who also happened to have super powers, well she could understand *that*, but that he'd let his editor in on his secret before he told his own *partner*? There she'd been thinking that she was special because he'd entrusted her with a precious secret, only to realize that in fact he'd trusted several others with it, just not herself. Did he know anything about her at all? She'd kept information from the public that could have been used to harm him before, wasn't that proof enough that she was loyal to him? Oh how she would make him regret this!
Lois started to walk towards her desk to pick up her briefcase and leave the newsroom. She hadn't taken two steps away from the editor's office, however, when she found herself face to face with her sheepish looking *ex*-partner. She looked up at him, her eyes narrow with anger.
"Slimeball!" she threw at him, before she walked away.
"Lois?" Clark called out, utterly confused.
He'd noticed how agitated she was a second ago, in Perry's office, but out of respect for both her and the editor, he hadn't tried to listen in on the conversation. He had absolutely no idea what he possibly could have done to incur the wrath of Lois Lane, this time. She seemed fine a few hours ago when he'd seen her last…
"Oh, drop dead!" she spat back, causing him to cringe.
Whatever it was that Lois was angry with him for, Clark hoped that he'd be able to fix it. He'd gotten a quick glimpse at what his life would be without her in it and the last thing he wanted was to actually live it! He'd go over and talk to her a little later. Maybe if he gave her a bit of time she'd calm down enough to listen to him. Right now, though, he needed to talk to Perry and see whether there was any possible way he would consider re-hiring him. Otherwise, he might really have to leave Metropolis for good and the prospect of that sounded no more appealing than that of being without Lois. Taking a deep breath, he knocked on the editor's door before going inside the office.
Having picked up her things from her desk, Lois rushed towards the elevator, almost running straight into a pair of very tired-looking guys who didn't seem to know their way around. Whoever they were, they should have had the good sense to get out of her way, she thought.
"Hey, watch it, will you!" she said, then got on the elevator and left the newsroom.
"Didn't expect to see you so soon," Perry told Clark.
After all the work he and his two friends had put in to pump the water out of the streets, not to mention the major clean-up operation that he'd promised he'd put every effort in, he hadn't expected Clark to start thinking about coming back to the Planet for at least a couple days.
"Uh… Yes, sir. I realize that… uh… I…"
Clark was standing there looking like a kid who'd done something wrong and was waiting for his punishment. Perry had the hardest time trying to refrain from laughing. No wonder people didn't see through the secret identity! The man standing in front of him now looked nothing like the self-assured hero whose picture grazed the front page of the Daily Planet's evening edition. Of course, the self-assured hero didn't have to deal with any of the issues of "real life" — he had Clark Kent to deal with them.
"You know you're lucky to have a partner like her?" Perry interrupted.
"I am? Well, yes, of course I am. But… How do you mean?"
Clark was confused. Where was Perry going with this? What did that have to do with the fact that he was standing in his office again, barely 24 hours after having resigned, pretty much about to beg to get his job back?
"You have any idea what she was in here for, a second ago?" the editor asked.
"No… Only that she was furious when she left," Clark said, shaking his head. He could only hope that Perry would clue him in as to what had caused Lois to react the way that she had.
"Oh, yeah… that… I might be to blame a little on that one. Mind you, it's got more than a lot to do with you. But anyway, it's not about that. Imagine this… Lois Lane — you know, the woman who spent weeks complaining about being stuck with a work-partner? — well, that same person came in here and practically begged for me to give her back the partner she'd just lost. I'd say that's quite a change of winds, don't you agree?"
"She… what?" Clark was astonished. "She really did that?"
"She really did that," Perry confirmed. "So you see, under the circumstances, I don't have much choice…"
Perry took the envelope containing Clark's resignation from his desk and ripped it in two. He then threw it in the trash bin.
"Welcome back, son," he said.
"Thank you, sir," Clark replied, happy and relieved.
"There's just one little thing," the editor said, authoritatively. "I don't know for sure what's going on between you two, but I could venture a pretty good guess. I'm just going to say this once, so you better listen… Now, you know, Lois is like a daughter to me. I cannot stand to see her miserable. So… aw… if we ever find her crying in the conference room again 'cause of some stupid stunt you pulled, well you better believe me when I say this: invulnerable or not, I promise it's going to hurt."
"I'll… do my best, sir," Clark assured him, although he was more than a little shocked both by the editor's cautionary advice and his admission of awareness. Perry knew? Lois must have told the chief, or he couldn't have known. His expression changed from surprise and confusion to disappointment and frustration. Had he not be clear enough when he'd made her promise that she wasn't supposed to tell anyone? Or had she just figured that this didn't apply to Perry White?
"Hang on," the editor started, seeing the growing displeasure that was starting to show on Clark's face. "Before you start jumping to any conclusions, Lois didn't tell me anything I didn't already know."
"You mean…? Really?"
"Well, hey, I didn't get to be editor of a major newspaper purely for my good looks, you know!" he chuckled.
Suddenly it occurred to Clark that Lois might have thought that *he* had told Perry, rather than the editor figuring it out on his own. It could very well explain her outburst… At least this wasn't anything a little bit of reassuring couldn't fix.
He thanked the editor for allowing him to come back and left his office.
"C.K.!" Jimmy called out to him, "You're back for good, I hope? Hey, there's a couple of guys who were looking for you…" He gestured in direction of the conference room.
"Yeah, I'm here to stay. Thank, Jimmy," Clark said and he made his way to where Barry and Arthur were waiting for him.
"Hey guys!" he greeted them. "I thought you'd have left by now?"
"What? And pass up a chance to see this edition of the Daily Planet before everybody else?" Barry asked as he lifted up the newspaper to show Clark.
The front-page article was entitled: "Heroes League to Save City."
"Tell me, Clark," Arthur asked. "Lois Lane…? Is she the brunette who went by like a tornado just a few minutes ago?"
Clark grinned. "Yeah, that would be her. And she was definitely in tornado mode. Which… I think is my fault, somehow." He looked a little embarrassed as he admitted this to his friends.
"Do you think she'd go for a…" Arthur started.
"No, I don't think so." Clark said abruptly, anticipating his friend's question.
"Careful, A.C.," Barry warned him, "I hear Kent's got it bad for the girl. And I don't think you want to fight *him*, even over a hot little number like her."
"Oh, cut it out!" Clark retorted. He was so embarrassed by now, even his ears had turned a bit red.
"Told ya," Barry said to Arthur, with a wink. "Hey, how 'bout we go out for pizza? I'm absolutely starving!"
"Oh, yuck, pizza?" Arthur remarked with an air of disgust, "How can you eat such a thing?"
"Heck of a lot better than seaweed and raw fish!" Barry complained.
"Uh… guys? How about take-out at my place?" Clark cut in. "Because I don't see how we can possibly find a place that you'd both like. Besides, I've got an idea I'd like to run by you and I'd rather we discussed it somewhere a little more private than a pizza place."
They nodded, curious as to what Clark had in mind. The three men left the newsroom together and headed for Clinton Street.
Some time later, in Lois Lane's apartment…
Lois was pacing in her living room. She'd come home a few hours earlier and had all but passed out from exhaustion as soon as she'd slipped into bed. She had woken up not very long ago, still feeling somewhat angry but mostly feeling lost and miserable.
As angry as she was with Clark for his lack of trust in her, she was much more afraid of the fact her latest little fit of temper might have pushed him away for good. Pacing her living room like an idiot wasn't helping anything, but it was all she could think of doing right now. There had to be some way of fixing all this mess, she thought. She just wasn't sure how to do that right now.
Every so often, she'd hear noises coming from outside the window she'd left open, but there was never anyone there. She didn't really expect him to show up, especially not after the insults she'd spat in his face, but she couldn't help but hope that maybe he would anyway.
As much as she hated to have to admit it, the bottom line was that, without Clark around, Lois was just miserable…
Meanwhile, not very far away…
What Lois apparently failed to realize was that Clark was just as lost without her as she was miserable without him. And unbeknownst to her, while she was pacing and looking out her window, desperately hoping he'd show up, he was actually standing right outside her door.
As soon as his friends had left and he'd had a chance to take care of a few things that needed his immediate attention, Clark had gone over to her place. He'd seen that the lights were on, so he had entered the building and walked up to her floor. Upon arriving at the door, though, he'd found himself frozen in place, unable to knock. He stood there for the longest time, unable to decide what to do next.
He might have been the strongest man on the planet, but faced with the wrath of this one woman, the all-powerful Man of Steel invariably became as invulnerable as a small kitten. In fact right at this moment, on a scale from one to petrified, he scored at paralyzed plus one.
Finally, he managed to will his hand into a fist and he knocked on the door…
At that instant, on Lois' side of the door…
The sudden knock at the door caught Lois completely unawares. Her heart skipped a beat. She had spent so much time imagining that he'd come through the *window* that it hadn't occurred to her that Clark might opt to show up at her door instead. At least, she hoped it was him. She wanted it to be him.
Before she could unglue her feet from their spot on the floor and make her way to the door, she heard a voice calling from out in the hall.
It *was* him! He'd come. For reasons that she couldn't even begin to fathom, he was here. He was really here.
"Lois?" Clark called again, seeing as though there was no answer. "It's me… Listen, I'm sorry. I… umm… I know you're there, Lois. Can we talk? Please?"
Huh? He could he know she was there? Wait a second! He hadn't… had he? Lois sprinted towards the door and undid the row of locks that kept her safe from strangers lurking on the outside. She opened the door in one swift motion, then grabbing Clark by the collar of his shirt, she abruptly pulled him inside and kicked the door closed a second later.
"Do you always X-Ray in to see if I'm there? Huh? How dare you!" she accused him, her eyes narrow with anger.
"X-Ray? No, wait! I swear I didn't. I just… I saw that the light was on before. And I sort of heard you pacing, too. But, I promise, Lois, I didn't look in," he explained, as fast as he could get the words out.
"The light? Oh… right," Lois mumbled, finally letting go of Clark's shirt. "Sorry," she whispered as she took a step back.
"I guess you were expecting someone else?" he said, pointing at the opened window.
Something in his voice told her that he was hurt by the fact that she'd been hoping for Superman to show up instead of just plain old Clark. But it wasn't like that at all… She couldn't let him think that!
"Oh, no…" she lied, "it was just a bit hot in here and…"
"Lois, come on, it's freezing in here."
"Ah… Well, now that you mention it, I guess it is a little bit chilly."
Lois turned around and walked to the window so she could close it. She really hadn't paid much attention to it, but it was rather cold in her apartment now.
"Are you still mad?" Clark asked, in a timid little voice. Better to get that out right away, he thought. While he was still close enough to the door to dash out if Lois went into tornado mode again…
"Yes," she admitted. "Very much so." But there was absolutely no conviction at all in her words.
Clark smiled at the realization that what she said was apparently miles away from what she was thinking. He guessed that meant there was still some hope that everything would turn out all right after all. The thought gave him back much of the courage he'd lost earlier that afternoon…
Lois closed the window and pulled the drapes shut. As she took a step back, she bumped right into something solid that hadn't been there just a second ago. She hated that he could do that and she was about to turn and tell him so, but he had grabbed her wrists and wrapped both her arms and his around her waist. The warmth from his body and the softness of his touch sent waves of pleasant shivers through her body.
"You're not really mad, are you?" he whispered in her ear.
"I'm very mad," she said, trying to sound as cutting as she could, but failing miserably. Of course she wasn't mad. How could she be when he was standing so close like that…
"No, you're not," he whispered before kissing her neck lightly, just above her shirt collar.
Lois felt the world start to melt away slowly. With the last of her conscious mind, she replied, "Yes, I am. I'm mad at the two of you."
"No, you're not," Clark whispered once more, kissing her neck again, a few inches higher.
"Yes, I am," Lois repeated, although barely remembering what they were arguing about.
"No. You're not," he whispered yet again, this time gently brushing the tip of his nose against her earlobe.
"Yes, I am," she replied, but the words had completely lost their meaning by now. Her head came to rest on his shoulder as he tightened his arms around her slightly.
"If you say so," Clark said, sounding clearly amused by Lois' forced indignation.
"I don't remember what I was supposed to be mad about," she confessed, "but I will be again if you stop what you were doing before…"
He smiled and brushed a light kiss on her temple. "This?" he asked softly.
She moaned in agreement, the sound of which almost made him weak at the knees. His eyes closed themselves as three little words rose from his heart to his lips. "I love you," he whispered, his voice thick with emotion.
His declaration took Lois completely by surprise. She had suspected that perhaps he did, but she wasn't expecting him to voice it. At least not right now. She wasn't prepared for it. She hadn't really had time to think about what she felt yet… His words had pretty much the effect of a cold shower instead of causing her heart to sing, as it should have.
Clark felt Lois' body tense suddenly. His eyes flew open and he let go of her wrists, his arms falling limply to his sides. He took a step back and mumbled some sort of unconscious apology.
Realizing what was happening, Lois spun around to face him. "No, don't!" she begged, in a state close to panic, convinced that he was going to take it all back.
Clark looked at her, completely befuddled.
"You shouldn't be sorry," she explained. "I should. And I am. Sorry, I mean. You just surprised me. I wasn't expecting… I shouldn't have reacted like that. I'm sorry. I didn't mean it to look like… you know… that I don't… you know… because… well, the thing is that… I… uh…" She stopped to take a deep breath. Lois was so confused she didn't know what she was trying to say anymore.
He gave her a lopsided smile. "You have no idea how adorable you look when you're babbling like this," he said softly.
An embarrassed little smile made her way to her lips as her cheeks turned a warmer shade of pink. She looked at him, her eyes wide with wonder. Adorable? When she babbled? Really?
"Really," Clark said, answering the unspoken question that was so clear in her big brown eyes. "But you really have to stop looking at me like this, though," he added. "Unless you're trying to kill me," he whispered after a short pause.
"Oh, that's a pity," she said, a sly smile slowly appearing on her lips. "Cause I happen to like looking at you like this." She batted her eyelashes at him suggestively.
"Careful," he warned her, "you're standing on slippery ground here."
"That's ok," Lois replied. "Cause you'll be there to catch me if I fall, won't you?"
Clark smiled. "Always," he promised.
"I'm glad you came back, Clark," she told him softly. "I… I'm sorry that I never realized before… um… just how important you are to me. For a while there, when I didn't think you'd ever come back… I… um… Please don't ever…" Lois looked away for a second as tears were starting to cloud her vision. "Don't ever leave like that again, Clark. Please? I… I'm lost without you." Her bottom lip was quivering and her last few words came out barely a whisper.
He gathered her in his arms and hugged her close to his heart. "I promise. I won't leave you again," he repeated over and over as he gently stroke her hair, until she stopped sobbing uncontrollably.
"I think you need to catch me now," Lois whispered after a moment.
"I do?" Clark asked, somewhat puzzled by her statement.
"Yes." She looked up at him. "You made me slip… and now you need to catch me. Because I'm falling in love with you."
Lois reached up to kiss Clark. For one short blinding moment, as their lips met, it was as though the Earth suddenly stopped spinning and the Universe stopped expanding. Two lonely souls had found their one true mate.
Bottom Dweller's Notes:
~ Supporting Cast of Characters ~
The Good Guys:
—> Barry Allen / The Flash:
Barry Allen is actually the second person to have assumed the identity of The Flash. The first one was Jay Garrick. Barry is a police scientist from Central City. One night, as he was preparing to leave work, a lightning bolt shattered a case full of chemicals and spilled them all over him. As a result, he found that he could run extremely fast and had matching reflexes. That is how he became The Flash. His super powers include super fast (as fast as light) speed and reflexes and the ability to vibrate at such a speed that he can demolecularise and pass through solid objects. He's been known to defy several other laws of physics, such as walking on water…
—> Iris Allen:
Iris is Barry's wife. She also happens to be the aunt of Wally West (the third Flash). She's a photojournalist and works for the Picture News in Central City. An interesting bit of information about her is that while she had figured out that Barry was The Flash (he talks in his sleep, apparently), he did not tell her that he was until well over a year after they were married. I'm still not sure why she didn't just go up and ask him about it… She has pretty much the same super powers that Lois Lane does. …think about it. ;)
—> Arthur Curry / Aquaman:
Aquaman is the ruler of the mythical kingdom of Atlantis. He is the son of an Atlantean wizard and an Atlantean Queen but spent most of his childhood being raised by a human lighthouse keeper. His powers include the abilities to breathe underwater, telepathically communicate with and control all forms of sea life and swim at super fast speeds. He has superhuman strength, speed and endurance even when he's not underwater.
The Bad Guys:
—> The Superman Revenge Squad:
This is an actual team, which exists in the DC Universe, except I didn't use the version from the comic books; I used the team they had in an episode of Justice League (animated series). Mind you, I haven't seen the episode, but I have seen the villains elsewhere, including eps of Lois & Clark and Superman (The Animated Series).
—> Mark Mardon / The Weather Wizard:
He doesn't usually show up in Superman stories because he's from Central City (ie: The Flash's hometown). His brother, Clyde was a scientist who discovered a way to control the weather before dying. Mark took Clyde's notes and used them to make a wand, which generates weather and embarked on a criminal career.
—> Leslie Willis / Livewire:
She used to be a radio host (a shock jock, to be exact — that's like Howard Stern). She led a hate campaign against Superman before she was turned into a super villain in an accident. She was hosting a rock concert in Centennial Park, during a thunderstorm (!). Lightning hit and Superman went to save her, but lightning hit *him* and transferred some of his powers to her… (Reminiscent of an L&C episode, isn't it?) She can control electricity and turn herself into pure energy to travel through electrical wiring. (And I think for a super villain, she's pretty darn cool!!!)
Members of the team which won't show up in the story are:
—> John Corben / Metallo:
He is a cyborg — part human and part machine. The machine part of him is powered by Kryptonite. You've seen this guy in L&C S2. There isn't much difference between what they had on the show and the comics version of him — he was in an accident and Emmet Vale turned him into a cyborg in order to get rid of Superman.
—> Winslow Schott / Toyman:
He uses toy-based or -themed devices and gimmicks in his various crimes. Basically the bad guy you've seen in Season's Greedings.
He's the first son of Darkseid, ruler of Apokolips — whatever that means… *lol*!
~ References found throughout the story… ~
—> Lois: "It's as if we're living in… Bizarro world or something!"
"Bizarro world" is an alternate version of Earth — it's actually a cube planet (!) which is called Htrae. It was founded by an imperfect clone of Superman (ie: Bizarro) and a similarly imperfect clone of Lois Lane. The Superman clone was created by Lex Luthor (the clone of Lois Lane was created by.. well, Lois herself, so Bizarro would have a companion). The L&C episode Vatman was probably inspired by this. In popular culture, the adjective "Bizarro" is often used to describe something which looks to be an imperfect duplicate of something.
—> Livewire: "And Toyman, I don't know, he said something about space rats."
Ok… If you haven't seen the L&C S2 episode Season's Greedings, you really ought to do that now. Trust me, it's SO worth it.
—> Unbeknownst to the Wizard, Livewire was busy planning a 'phase four'…
This one is a little obscure, I admit! Phase IV is the title of a movie starring Dean Cain. :) It just so happens Phase IV is one of my favorite movies of his.
—> Weather Wizard: "Let's see just how slippery you are when you're wet!"
Of all my references, this is by far the most obscure… "Slippery when Wet" is the title of an album by Bon Jovi. And before you start thinking 'well that's got nothing to do with Superman', let me assure you that it does. Jon Bon Jovi had the classic Superman logo tattooed onto his arm at the height of the success of that particular album. You can see a picture of it right here:
—> Barry Allen: "I'm off to see the Wizard?"
Well no, that's just a really bad pun… Off to see the Wizard, is obviously from Wizard of Oz… And Barry is on his way to fight the Weather Wizard. ha ha ha. ;)
—> Iris Allen: "I wish you'd quit trying to think faster than I do, it's the only race you'll never win…"
—> Barry Allen: "Ok, well I'll be in Metropolis in a flash."
These aren't references per se, they were meant to help you figure out who Iris' husband really is. Barry Allen is The Flash and one of Flash's nicknames is "The Fastest Man Alive".
—> Barry Allen: "Cause I'm going to need all the super friends I can get if we're going to put things right."
"Super Friends" is the title of a cartoon series from the 70's, by Hanna-Barbera. It is based on the Justice League, which both Superman and Flash were members of.
—> Jimmy: "Have you seen? The Flash is here! He's so cool! Hey, I'll bet this guy is even faster than Superman!"
—> Lois: "Oh come on, Jimmy, of course he's not faster than Superman!"
—> Flash (to Superman): "You know, I seem to remember you being almost as fast as I am."
—> Superman (to Flash): "I seem to remember you being almost as fast as *I* am."
These all obviously refer to the question of who's the fastest… Flash, or Superman?
Well… There have been several races between Flash and Superman. However, they often resulted in ties (or indeterminate results). In recent races between the third Flash (Wally West) and Superman, Flash has been known to be the faster of the two. As far as I could tell, none of the races between Barry Allen and Superman ended with The Flash winning the race. (oh, before you ask, Superman did not win either. Eh.)
—> Superman: "I tried blowing that cloud away, but it just wouldn't budge."
Ah… that one… :( It's an involuntary reference to Smallville. They had Clark do that in the S6 episode Sneeze. Mind you, I had already put that into my story at the time. I eventually changed it to Superman simply stating that he had tried to blow it away, instead of having him do so.
—> Flash: "If we went to S.T.A.R. Labs, we could scan for polaron emissions"
Ok, this doesn't have a lot to do with Superman at all. I got that from an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. ("Apocalypse Rising"). On an interesting note, in another episode of DS9 ("Let He Who Is Without Sin"), Mr. Worf explains that he grew up on a farming planet and spent most of his youth trying to control his strength so as not to harm humans. Yes, my friends, this makes Worf a farm boy with well above average strength… Kinda like someone else we know. ;) You might also be interested to know that the actor who plays Worf, Michael Dorn, also lends his voice to Kalibak in Superman, the animated series. (The same Kalibak who just happens to be in the Superman Revenge Squad.)
—> The man formerly known as the Weather Wizard
Yes, yes, I know… that one should be illegal. Please just ignore it. *Especially* if it doesn't ring a bell.
—> Jimmy: "Oh, come on, Lois! What d'you think? That he's going to sneak a peak at your underwear? I doubt he's interested in knowing what color it is!"
This is a reference to the first Superman movie, in which Lois interviews Superman for the first time. Upon being told that he has x-ray vision, Lois asks him to tell her which color underwear she's wearing. They were pink…
—> Superman: "everything you ever wanted to know about me."
If, by any chance, you thought this was a reference to something, well… I know what you're thinking and I didn't mean it to be a reference to that. If I had then it would have been "always" instead of "ever". Seriously.
—> Superman: "I'll be around"
Have you seen Superman Returns? ;) Superman tells Lois he'll be "around" at least twice in the movie.
—> "Heroes Leagued to Save City."
I smell the beginnings of a Justice League, right there. Don't you?