By Sue S. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: April 2006
Summary: Lois feels she has a genuine gripe and has trouble forgiving Clark for his constant disappearing. This takes place right after the episode "Whine, Whine, Whine."
Author's Note: This takes place right after Whine, Whine, Whine. I've always felt like Lois got over his constant disappearances far too easily. She had a genuine gripe and she forgave him so quickly without having a clue about the reason he kept walking out on her.
These characters don't belong to me. This story is written without anything even bordering on permission. I'm not making any sort of monetary profit from this story, although feedback is always welcome. It seemed like there weren't many Lois POV stories out there and I foolishly thought it would be fun to try one. Now I know why there aren't many Lois POV stories out there. I would very much appreciate knowing where I went wrong, or right, in the attempt.
Special thanks and appreciation go to Sara who took the risk and answered my plea for a beta. I thank you for your steady eye and patience, but especially for your sense of humor and encouragement. By the end I was writing solely for the sheer fun of entertaining you. ;)
As we enter the elevator Clark's fingers brush the small of my back. I can't decide what irritates me more — the fact that he's touching me, or that usually I like it when he's unconsciously possessive like this.
Make no mistake about it — Clark Kent is persona non grata to me at this moment.
Okay, actually it's not just this particular moment. It's been off and on for weeks now. Last night we were on a date. A date he had sworn to me he would stick around to see the end of. After so many misunderstandings and a massive amount of counseling I had confronted him with my feelings. I had said goodbye to Dan, told Superman there was someone else and shown up on Clark's doorstep to lay it all on the line. He'd agreed that it was time to take this "to the next step".
So there we were, at the next step, the end of the date in sight as we approached my building. His fingers rested on the small of my back then, too, but I was definitely enjoying the sensation more at the time. I was enjoying it so much that I was frantically running down the end-of-date checklist in my head: My legs were shaved, I hadn't eaten onions, there was a bottle of wine in the fridge, I'd changed the sheets on the bed… not that I was really going to bring him into the bedroom. I just wanted to be prepared. Just in case. I wasn't entirely certain what the next step was, but I wasn't going to say no to a little action.
Anyway, so we were climbing the steps and then — oh then — he froze and tilted his head in that way that I have become so infuriatingly familiar with. His inner voice must have realized where all this was heading because he stammered out that he just remembered that he had shut off the water heater in his apartment earlier and it took hours and hours for the thing to warm up and he'd better go and… And he was gone. Without so much as a "thanks for the nice evening" or a good night kiss. If I'm being honest, it was the missed kiss that rankled me most.
He did say he would call me later. I took the phone off the hook. I haven't said more than three words to him yet today. Of course it's only nine o'clock, but it's not looking too promising for him. You might think he'd take the cold shoulder treatment a little more harshly but he hasn't even tried to talk to me. Maybe he realizes this was the absolute end of my patience?
Perry has to have noticed but he's apparently chosen to be deliberately obtuse. When I told him that Bobby Bigmouth had just called and I was going to meet him down by the docks he insisted that I take Clark along.
"Why? It's Bobby! The only thing to worry about is how much food I can carry."
"And who is this source he's having you meet? It's a dangerous part of town. Take Clark."
"I'm not going to argue this one with you. Either you take him along or you don't go."
I had glanced at Clark. He was studiously picking away at an imaginary spot on his tie. Truthfully, Bobby had asked for both of us, I just didn't want to be alone with Clark. If he was at all nice to me I was pretty certain I'd cave in and forgive him much sooner than he deserved.
"What if I take Jimmy?"
"Jimmy has other things to do this morning. So either you find Superman to go with you or you take Clark. And frankly, honey, I think Superman has better things to do than to trot along after you all day."
At that Clark let out a sort of snicker, apparently finding it as funny as Perry did. Perry good-naturedly slapped him on the back and said, "No offense, Kent."
"None taken." Clark looked like he was about to choke with laughter.
That was when I turned on my heel and left. Which brings us to now, standing in the elevator. There's nothing worse than a slow ride in an elevator with the one person you least want to talk to. When the doors finally open I'm going to be out of here like a shot. If Clark wants to be on this field trip he's just going to have to keep up.
"What did you bring me?" Bobby grabs greedily at the sack in my hands.
"Six tacos, extra cheese."
"Uh huh." Bobby takes the first one out, licking his lips in anticipation at the dark grease stain on the golden wrapper. "Good. Come on in."
We follow him inside. The warehouse is gloomy and dank. The only strong light is coming from the doorway we just walked through. The dingy windows high above us aren't much help.
"Stop there," a deep voice booms across the warehouse. "That's close enough."
"Who's there?" I ask.
"Just call me 'E'."
"Okay, E, what did you want to meet with us about?" Clark asks.
"Before we start we need to get some of the niceties out of the way. Bobby…"
Bobby nods and swallows, letting out a loud belch. "Yes, sir. I'm on it." He fumbles in his pocket and pulls out a pair of handcuffs.
"You've got to be kidding me!" I hate Perry for being right about coming alone. I hate even more where I see this heading.
"Think of it as a gesture of trust," E says.
"I can't imagine how this is going to make us trust you," I say. This guy can't be serious.
"No, I suppose it wouldn't. But I'm not sure that I can trust you to just sit on what I'm about to tell you. So it will work like this — Bobby will handcuff you to the wall. After I catch my plane, he'll come back with the key. You'll only be slightly inconvenienced. You trust Bobby, don't you?"
The answer to that question is "not hardly". I look over at Clark — he actually seems to be considering the idea.
"Okay," he says and holds his right hand out to Bobby.
"What? So we sit here for a little while — it might be worth it."
"Or he might just be some sick freak who gets his jollies from chaining reporters to the wall!"
Bobby snickers and claps the cuff onto Clark's wrist, then tugs him over closer to the wall. He passes the free end behind a pipe running up the wall and turns to look at me expectantly.
"Go on, Miss Lane, I promise it will be worth it." E's voice does nothing to reassure me.
I hesitate. Maybe somewhere, in some twisted recess of my mind on a day when I'm not mad at him, being handcuffed to Clark wouldn't be the end of the world. This morning, however, it is a huge imposition. I sigh heavily when I realize there aren't many other options.
"Fine." The tone of my voice makes it apparent that it is anything but fine. I walk over and stick my left hand out. Bobby snaps the cuff on quickly, before I can change my mind.
"Ouch! Too tight!" I try to yank my arm away before he ratchets the clasp close to my wrist, hoping maybe I can work my hand free later. Bobby isn't having any of it and he tightens the bracelet until it's digging into my wrist.
"Shouldn't have forgotten the hot sauce, Lois. Cell phones please." He's enjoying this far too much.
"What?" I give the handcuff a futile tug. Clark's hand whacks against the pipe and he shoots me disgusted look.
"Can't have you calling for help. Gimme your phones." Clark surrenders his and Bobby takes it. "C'mon Lois, I promise I'll give it back. If you're lucky I won't even use up all your minutes."
I glare at Bobby. This is the last time he gets anything from me. I wouldn't even give him so much as the doughnut crumbs off Clark's desk after this.
"Either you hand it over, babe, or I'll come after it."
"You do, you die." I hand my phone over, but my misgivings are severe.
"Wonderful," says E. "I can't stay long, and I can see that you'd rather be somewhere else yourselves so I'll just come straight to the point. You ought to take a look in the Schafer Building before it burns down."
"The Schafer Building…?" Clark and I say almost in unison.
"…It's going to burn down?" Clark asks.
"…Who's going to burn it down?" I ask at the same time.
"It's a distinct possibility that it won't make it four more days to demolition. Let's just say… sources close to the mayor want it gone," E answers.
"Is that you?" I ask.
"No, not me. Just… someone close to the mayor."
"Why are they going to burn it down?" Clark asks.
"Why would you burn down a building that was about to be demolished?" E counters.
"Because there's something in there someone doesn't want found? Is it the mayor? Is he hiding something?" I ask.
"I didn't say it was the mayor — only someone close to him. But you're right, this is something that someone doesn't want to see the light of day ever, ever again."
"What?" I ask.
"Perhaps the more accurate question is 'who', Miss Lane."
"Who then?" Clark asks.
"Who, who?" E mocks. "You should think outside the box. And that's more than enough to get you started."
"When are they going to burn the building down?" Clark calls out to stop E from leaving. He frowns at me like it's my fault E is being vague.
"I don't know. Maybe tonight." E says.
Clark gives an experimental tug on the handcuffs, looking up along the pipe in assessment.
"Don't worry, Mr. Kent, I promise you'll be out of here in plenty of time."
"Is this political?" I ask. "Are you trying to start a scandal?"
"No," says E. "This is personal." He chuckles, a low, ominous sound that sends a shiver down my spine. There's something familiar about that laugh. Footsteps echo in the large space of the warehouse. There's a brief ribbon of light at the far side of the building before his silhouette disappears through a door.
"That's my cue," says Bobby, stuffing the last bit of taco into his mouth and crumpling up the bag. He throws the bag at us, hitting the pipe between us with precision. "I'll see you two later."
"Bobby wait!" I yell. "Let's work something out. I'll get you a combo platter, that enchilada one you like so much! Extra hot sauce! Guacamole! With a side of nachos and a churro! Come on!"
He completely ignores me.
"Well that's just great," I say as Bobby's footsteps fade. "Now what? If you hadn't been so eager to get us locked up we could've been halfway to the Schafer Building by now."
"Eager to get us locked up?" Clark shakes his head and leans back against the wall. "It's not like this is the most dire situation we've ever been in. Bobby will be back in a little while…"
"A little while? Hardly! Think about it, E said he had a plane to catch. That means he has to get to the airport. He has to check in, go through security… it's going to be hours!"
"It's not the end of the world, Lois. You said you wanted me to stick around through a conversation, here's your chance."
"You're kidding me, right? This is why you caved so quickly on getting handcuffed? So we could talk?" I give the handcuffs a vicious tug, pleased with the sound the pipe makes when Clark's hand hits it.
Clark barely flinches. "It didn't seem like a bad idea at the time."
"Well it was! It was a terrible idea! What if I don't feel like talking to you — did you even think of that?
Clark looks at the handcuff on his wrist, then at me. It's the oddest kind of considering look.
"What?" I ask, feeling self-conscious.
"Nothing." He shakes his head dismissively. Then he looks up the pipe up and down. He knocks on it and there's a dull thunk. "Lead," he says like it's a dirty word. His finger traces the one shiny spot on the pipe, about four feet from the floor, where a hole was cut and soldered back in place.
"That pipe is too thick," I say, feeling vindicated that he, too, seems to wish he were anywhere else right now. "Look at the bolts holding it on the wall, not a single rusty one."
We both look up. It's hopeless. We're stuck here until Bobby gets back.
Clark sighs and slides down the wall until he's sitting. "C'mon Lois, take a load off. I can't hold my arm up all day." He rattles the handcuffs a little.
"I'm not going to sit on that floor!" It's not wet, but it doesn't smell all that good in here and this skirt is dry clean only. Besides, if it makes him uncomfortable to sit with his hand stuck in the air, I'm not about to make it any easier for him.
"You can sit on my lap." His eyebrows rise lecherously.
"When hell freezes over." I could not mean that more. This is all his fault — if he hadn't been such a wuss we could have talked E into leaving us unencumbered.
Clark shrugs. "Suit yourself."
I look at my watch and let out a disgusted sigh.
"You late for something?"
"If Bobby doesn't come back in the next hour I'm going to miss my pedicure and now I don't even have a phone to call and reschedule."
Clark says nothing; just turns his head away. I know he's smiling and it irks me all the more.
"You don't know these people! You don't know how far in advance you have to schedule to get into the Metro Salon! I'm never going to be able to show my face in there again!"
"Or your feet," Clark deadpans.
"It's not just that! We need to get over and see what's in the Schafer Building! What if they torch it before we get a chance to look inside? How long are we going to be here? It's the not knowing that kills me! Where the hell is Bobby? Where the hell is Superman?"
"Superman?" Clark echoes with obvious disbelief. "Your missing a pedicure hardly qualifies as an emergency. Like Perry said, maybe he has better things to do."
"I wish I knew," Clark mutters.
"So you're saying Superman only shows up when it's a true emergency? I've got news for you, sometimes he just shows up. Unlike you, he's actually there when it matters."
Clark closes his eyes and sighs. I feel bad that I said that. I didn't mean it, at least not like it sounded. For almost a minute there's no sound in the building except the muted rumble of the distant traffic. Unbidden, I remember how he kissed me two nights ago. I could forgive him a lot if he'd kiss me like that again. Plus, he looks so dejected, it makes me feel like I'm being irrational. Like Dr. Friskin said, maybe I'm distancing myself so don't have to deal directly with what's bothering me.
"I'm sorry, Clark. That was low. I didn't mean it like that." I slide down the wall into a crouch as I apologize, hoping that he'll recognize this as a conciliatory gesture. "I'm distancing again. It's not the pedicure that's bothering me."
"About Superman…" Clark says.
I hurry to speak first — I need to say this before he changes the subject. "I'm just scared. I just feel so out of control. I'm not sure where this…, us…, where we're headed and that scares me. Every time I think we're actually going to move forward something else happens. And then I think that maybe it's not meant to be. And you — you promise to stick around and not run off… and then you run off the first chance that you get. But when I think about losing you, as a friend, and maybe as more than a friend then I … it's, well, it's scary, Clark."
"I know. It scares me, too."
"Really. And I'm sorry about this," he waves his handcuffed hand. Then he gives me a mischievous smile. "Maybe you could just think of this as a gesture of trust?"
I can't help but smile back at him. He means it — he actually let Bobby chain us to the wall so we could talk. I feel oddly touched that he'd go this far to make up with me. Then a thought occurs to me and I give him a furious look. "Don't tell me that you set this up on purpose…"
"No!" Clark holds up his free hand to forestall that line of thinking. "I didn't, I promise. It's just that the situation presented itself and I …"
"I just want to make things right between us. Lois, I promise I'm not running from you."
"Not right now. But what happens after Bobby comes back? Then what? You keep saying you have something to tell me, so do it. For once, tell me the truth. If it's me, tell me it's me. I don't care anymore how heinous it is. Nothing can be worse than what I'm imagining."
"It's not you."
"Then what is it?"
Clark opens his mouth like he's about to speak but then he tilts his head in curiosity. "What do you imagine it is?" He's stalling, but I'll play along.
"Serial killer," I blurt out.
"Oh please." He looks appalled.
"Some other career — you're a pimp or a drug dealer."
"Do you really think I'd do something that sleazy?" He looks at me like he's trying to decide whether I'm serious or not.
"It's always the ones you'd never suspect," I say flippantly. I really can't picture him doing anything illegal. Clark is the most cut-and-dried person I know.
He grimaces. "It's nothing like that."
"Okay. You have an overactive bladder."
He rolls his eyes. "You were closer when you guessed it was a second job."
"Really? You have a second job?" Now this is news and it only makes me more curious. The thought that maybe he's moonlighting for the Tattler crosses my mind. But no, Clark is too principled for that.
"It's not a job, really. It's more like…" He sighs. "I don't know, it's kind of unique."
"So you're not a bike messenger or something like that?"
"Something with odd hours and secret meetings… you're a spy!"
"Guess again." He looks just the smallest bit uncomfortable with this game but my curiosity is piqued. Clark Kent has a secret — that much I already knew. But now he's stuck with me and he actually seems willing to let me ferret it out of him.
"You'll tell me if I get it?"
He nods. "Yes."
"What if I get warm? Will you tell me that too?"
"Okay. Um, something unique…" I watch his face, looking for clues. He's smiling but it seems uncertain. His eyes look almost worried.
"Do you make a lot of money? How profitable is this venture for you?"
"I don't make any money doing this. It's… it's more like a service, I guess."
"Oh." I think that over. Clark runs out on me to perform charitable service. I sigh, if only because there's something niggling at the back of my mind. It's a half-formed thought but I can't pin down what it means.
"No, wait! Don't tell me! Let me try, at least." I furrow my brow in concentration.
"Okay." He doesn't sound like it's okay.
"So it's a service — like helping little old ladies across the street?"
"Is this an anonymous kind of thing? I mean, I never see anyone thanking you. You aren't getting fan mail or gift baskets or anything like that, are you?"
"Not really. I do it with a kind of anonymity, but… it's fairly public. Everyone sees what I do."
"Everyone sees you, but no one knows it's you?"
"Yes." He's looking more guarded with each question I ask.
"Do you wear a disguise? Are you running around dressed like Zorro and fighting oppression?"
"I'm not fighting oppression."
"You're putting money in parking meters? Delivering Meals-On-Wheels? Checking for open manhole covers?"
"No. It's nothing like that." He rubs his handcuffed wrist; the gesture fairly screams that he wishes he was somewhere else.
"Have you ever done one of these anonymous good deeds for me?"
He hesitates for the barest of seconds and then looks me in the eye. "Yes."
"Really? And I didn't know it was you?" This surprises me. Plus there's something about his expression as he shakes his head. He's so solemn, so grim. I wrack my brain trying to think — it's there. It's right there in his eyes. But what is it?
"Please, when you figure this out, try not to be angry…"
That distracts me. "I'll be angry with you? Was it not a good deed? Are you like the Prankster?"
"No, not like that. I just… I don't know. I'm afraid you'll be angry because I never told you before. But I couldn't, not at first. And then everything just got more and more complicated. And now it's so complicated that I don't know that I can ever…" He trails off and rubs his wrist again. The niggle at the back of my mind whispers that it's something baaaaaaad.
His gaze has never left mine and his eyes seem to be pleading. All of sudden I'm terrified. I know that whatever it is, it's going to change everything forever. I try to swallow but my mouth has gone dry.
"Clark, now you're really scaring me." It comes out as a hoarse whisper.
"I'm sorry. I don't mean to. More than anything I've wanted to tell you this. There's just no good way to do it."
"So tell me." My heart has started pounding so hard that my chest hurts.
He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, nodding his head like he's having some inner conversation. Then he removes his glasses, tucking them into his shirt pocket before meeting my gaze again. "I, uh, I don't really need glasses."
"You only wear them to look smarter?" I'm confused. That's his big secret? After all that build-up? What a let down! He looks so different without his glasses. And yet, somehow, very familiar.
"No. I started wearing them about five years ago. The lens' curvature distracts my eyes enough that I don't accidentally invade people's privacy or burn holes through stuff."
"Burn holes through stuff?" I repeat numbly. What the hell is that supposed to mean?
"Like this." A thin beam of red light flashes from his eyes and slices through the cuff on his wrist. The handcuff falls away as he warily looks back up at me.
There's a disconnect between what I just saw and what it means. There's only one person who can do that… and he's… Clark. Clark is Superman. The niggle goes 'Ahhhhhh… nope. Not what I was thinking.'
He's watching me anxiously and I have to turn my head away. I can feel the flush creeping across my cheeks as I remember all the things I've said about Superman in front of Clark. I try to work up a little righteous indignation but really all I'm feeling is shock. And hurt. And a little bit nauseated. Why couldn't he have told me sooner?
Then it dawns on me — he's tried. How many of those conversations that he ran out on started with him saying he had to tell me something? But, then, why not continue the conversation when he got back?
Maybe because you were being a snob about it, my inner voice prompts.
Obviously that line of thinking is no good.
Clark touches my hand and I flinch. "Here, let me…" he says and then gently snaps the handcuff on my wrist in two like it was nothing.
I rub my wrist. Bobby really did put the thing on too tight. "Thanks," I manage weakly. I don't know what else to say. What does he want me to say? What is the protocol for this situation? It's not like there's a handbook, 'So You're Dating A Superhero: How To Handle The Confession.'
Clark stands and extends his hand to help me up. I ignore it and stand up on my own. My legs feel a little shaky. It's weird, too weird, to stand here and have him look so normal, so Clark-like, and yet still have the image of him blasting the cuffs off replaying in an endless loop in my mind's eye.
"Will you do me a favor?" My voice sounds far more casual than I feel.
"Put the glasses back on, please."
He does and it's a little easier to look at him, although I can't bring myself to look into his eyes.
"Are you okay?" he asks.
"Sure. Fine. Why wouldn't I be?" I try for nonchalance but fail miserably.
There's an awkward silence.
"You can understand why I didn't want anyone to know, can't you? I just wanted a normal life."
"Sure. I can understand that." In principle I can understand that. In practice I can't make any sense out of it. He had a normal life. You couldn't get more normal than Clark. It really is the ones you'd never suspect.
"But you're upset with me."
"You. Me. The whole situation." I don't know what I'm upset about, I just know that I am. The niggle at the back of my mind has become an ephemeral kind of longing. I've lost something — I just can't put a name yet to what I've lost.
"Lois, I've tried…"
"I know that!" This comes out sharper than I intended and I feel bad when Clark takes a reflexive step back. "I know you have. Honestly… I don't know what to think. This might take a while."
I take a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to get back on track. Work — work will save me. Work will distract me from having to process this. "Here's what we need to do. We need to get over to the Schafer Building and take a look around before it burns down. And we need to track down Bobby and force feed him until he tells us who E is."
Clark gives me a hopeful smile. "Gosh, if only we knew someone with x-ray vision, that would speed the search along."
"That's not funny. You're not allowed to make jokes about this."
"Sorry." He looks chagrined.
As we leave the warehouse his fingers brush across my back. It feels a little strange, in the same way Clark feels strange to me now. So familiar and yet completely unknown.
I think again about the kiss we shared two nights ago, when he said he was ready for the next step. Oh my god, I've kissed Superman. Not that I hadn't kissed Superman before, I have. It just was never, ever, like that kiss with Clark. With Superman there was always a weird vibe of hero worship on my side and restraint on his. With Clark it was an entirely different kind of restraint. My stomach slides at the recollection. It's hard to reconcile the two men together in my mind.
I blink back sudden tears. That's what I'm missing — I'll have to look at him differently from now on. He can't just be plain old Clark to me anymore.
I miss him already.
Clark and I stand in the alley behind the Shafer Building, his glasses tipped down his nose, while he looks intently up at the building.
"No, nothing. I think we've been set up."
"Then I guess this isn't a job for Superman." I walk over and try to jiggle the door handle. It doesn't move. I look over my shoulder at Clark. "A little help here?"
"Lois, we can't just break in."
"Why not? Don't get all moral on me now, Clark. I've seen you break into places before."
His mouth thins into a frown. "I just told you there's nothing in there and, frankly, the building doesn't look too stable. We should track down Bobby and find out who E really is."
"Or maybe we got free sooner than E anticipated and someone is going to come by and plant whatever it was we were supposed to find."
"Then we can watch for them from out here."
"That's not the point! Open this door."
"It's exactly the point. And I'm not your personal lock-pick!"
"Fine, be that way." I stomp away from the door and back into the alley, looking around for something heavy to throw.
"What are you doing?" He looks a little hurt that I won't just take his word for it. Good. Serves him right.
"I'm helping myself." And to hell with him anyway for being so… unhelpful.
There's just the thing — a moderate sized chunk of concrete. It's a little too heavy but I'll be damned if I'm going to let him know that. I lug it closer to the building with as much dignity as I can manage and heave it at the small window a few feet over from the door. Unfortunately the window is set too high on the wall for my aim. The only damage done is a whitish streak on the building's faded brickwork as it falls. It breaks apart on impact with the ground.
"Either help me or get out of the way." I pick up one of the smaller shards of my concrete missile and throw it at the window. This time I succeed in leaving a spider web of cracks in the glass. I pick up the piece and throw it again. Nothing happens except that the rock shatters into several more pieces when it hits the pavement.
I want to cry. This is so humiliating. Why doesn't he just help? I turn to go find another piece of concrete in the alley. There's a metallic screech and Clark calls my name. I turn back around and he's standing in the open doorway.
"Now was that so hard?" I ask, trying to maintain the thin edge of my anger. It's really the only thing holding me together right now. I toy with the idea of throwing the concrete at him. It wouldn't hurt him — and that's more or less the point.
There's a distant rumble and Clark's interest veers past me, into the alley. Oh my god, do I know that look.
"What is it?" I ask, still feeling petty so it comes out more as sarcasm. "Is someone in trouble? Or did you just remember that you forgot to mail something?"
"No," he shakes his head, ignoring the dig. "I have to go, but this building isn't safe so just… stay here." He holds his hand up and looks me in the eye. "And I mean that, stay right here. Please." Even though he says the "please" softer, it doesn't quell the indignation I feel. Indignation that gives way to numb disbelief as he spins in front of me, going from a dark blur into a red and blue blur.
And there he is — Superman. Clark really is Superman. I gape at him, feeling like I just found out all over again.
He gives me a quick smile that looks more like a plea to stay. And then he's gone with a woosh and a little sonic boom. I'd be tempted to follow him but I have no idea where he's going. In the distance I hear the shrill wail of a siren. Funny how I never noticed it before — there was usually a siren in the vicinity whenever Clark disappeared.
"Idiot!" I mutter under my breath. I'm not quite sure who the idiot is. Me, for never figuring it out. Or him, for… just being him.
I toss the chunk of concrete I'm still holding at the window. This time the window shatters, but I don't feel at all triumphant. I let out a sigh of disgust and stomp back to the small landing. I might as well start looking through the Schafer Building. If he thought I was just going to sit here on the stairs like a good little Lois he's got another thing coming.
I step gingerly over the threshold into a narrow hallway. There's a large airy room at the far end, probably the building's lobby. There's an open door to my right through which I can see, and smell, a lot of garbage on the floor. It looks mostly like food wrappers and cigarette butts. There's a stained mattress below the window I just broke and glass is scattered along the top of it. Glass or not, I wouldn't sit on it no matter how much you paid me. There are a few articles of clothing mixed in with the garbage — a flannel shirt, a single boot and a ragged pair of underwear that curls my lip in revulsion.
I move further down the hallway, away from the room and the smell. After about twenty feet the hallway opens up into the lobby. The floor is wood parquet under ages of accumulated dust. If it were cleaned and buffed I bet it would be beautiful. There are footsteps in all directions tracking through the dust but I can't tell if they're recent.
I walk to the large oak and glass front doors and try them. They don't open. I peer through the grimy glass and see a heavy chain and padlock on the outside. Okay, so they didn't get in that way. Or they did, but it's since been locked up. Of course, I guess it's possible that they came in through the same door I did. Maybe they had a key to the back door? Did it used to be kept unlocked? Is there another way in? Obviously someone has been in here since the place was closed for business.
I wrinkle my nose at the thought of going back and sifting through the debris to see if there's anything that can give me a date range for occupancy. There's a large staircase to my right, sweeping up to the second floor. I could check around upstairs even though I already know there's really nothing to be found — surely Clark wouldn't lie about something like that?
Then again, there's no substitute for first hand information gathering, especially when your source has just admitted that he's lied to you every day for the past two years. I'll check upstairs. When Clark comes back he can go over the squatter's room.
I'm halfway up the stairs when I hear my name called out. I'm so startled that I nearly trip. I look over the railing and see Superm…, er, Clark. He's still dressed like Superman and he looks upset.
"What?" I ask defensively, thinking he's about to get mad that I didn't wait for him by the back door.
"The warehouse we were chained up in? It blew up."
"Oh my god!"
There's a moment of silence while I digest that fact. Finally my thoughts start to gel. "But… you didn't hear a bomb or anything, did you?"
"No. That doesn't mean there wasn't one. Maybe it was a remote detonation device …it must have been in the lead pipe we were chained to." He looks as dazed as I feel.
I come down the stairs slowly. My legs feel disconnected and heavy. It's never reassuring to realize that someone wants you dead. "Do you think Bobby…?"
"No," Clark says quickly. "I just can't see Bobby being a part of something like that. I don't think he knew."
"Well, we should start with him."
"Yeah," Clark nods. "Or we could have Superman talk to him."
I want to point out the incongruity of referring to himself in the third person, especially when he's still dressed like Superman, but I defer that for later. "Why Superman?"
"Let's think about this, Lois. E thinks we're dead. Bobby, whether he was in on it or not, will think we're dead. Superman can talk to Inspector Henderson and have him put out the word that our bodies were found inside. I think we're safer being dead right now."
I can see the sense in what he's saying. "We have to tell Perry, though."
"Agreed. And we need to find somewhere to hide out. We can't go back to our apartments."
I nod mechanically, still feeling shaky. "So where do we go?"
He doesn't answer. We both stand there, thinking, for a minute. I run through all the possibilities. Can't go to the Planet, too many people around would see us. Can't stay with friends or family since that would make them a target too. If Clark suggests his parents in Kansas I'll veto. No way I'm going to hide there when I need to be here. I'm not going to be at his mercy over whether I get to stay or go.
Finally Clark clears his throat and asks, "We could ask Perry about using Winch Kennebrew's condo at the marina again."
"Good idea. Let's divide and conquer. You head back to the warehouse and talk to Henderson and I'll call Perry." And what am I going to tell him? I mean I can't tell him about Clark being Superman, so how do I explain how we escaped the bomb? Superman just happened by? No wonder all of Clark's excuses were so lame.
Clark nods and goes to leave, then turns back, taking a few steps until he's standing directly in front of me. A little tremor of anticipation runs through me as I tilt my head back to look up at him. Lately being this close to Clark gives me a giddy feeling. Then again, so did being this close to Superman. Now that it's Clark, and Superman, the feeling is harder to describe.
"Lois," he says solemnly, his eyes dark with emotion. His hand comes up to cover my cheek and I shiver again. "I'm so sorry. I never would have agreed to being handcuffed if I'd known…"
"I know that," I say softly. "Don't worry about it." Impulsively I go on tiptoe, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. He smiles, his face relaxing and suddenly he looks more like Clark than Superman.
I touch his cheek, mirroring his gesture of a few moments before. "Do you know what part of it was? Your face is always so rigid as Superman. You always held yourself so distant, you know?"
"I could hardly be familiar with you as Superman. It was just easier to keep my distance."
I drop my hand, suddenly flustered by the realization of who he is and how little distance separates us. Clark is Superman — I just can't wrap my brain around that idea.
"Sorry. This is just… going to take some getting used to."
I look back up at him and he's shifted back to his Superman face. He gives me a somber nod and takes a step back. "Leave a message with Perry and let me know where to meet you."
"What?" It takes me a few seconds to switch gears. "Oh, yeah. I'll call Perry. See if you can set up a time for us to meet with Henderson."
We walk out of the building in silence. On the landing outside he turns to me and says, "Be careful." Then he raises his hand and flies away.
Nope — I'll never get used to this. I still marvel that Superman can fly and now I have to wrap my mind around the idea that he's Clark? Clark — the guy who trips over his own shoelaces. Was that an act? Or is he clumsy because it never mattered if he fell?
Probably an act. When was the last time I saw Superman make a wrong move? Never.
Did he play the wide-eyed hayseed because that was the label I gave him? How much of our personality is based on other people's perceptions of us? It's sobering to realize that, in part, he got away with it for this long because I only saw what I wanted to see.
At a pay phone down the street I dial Perry's back line.
"Lois!" he barks out as soon as he hears my voice. "Are you two anywhere near the old Pier 3 warehouse? The police scanners are saying it just blew up."
"Actually, we were supposed to be inside it when it blew up."
There's a moment of silence and then Perry says, "Do you want to run that by me again?"
"The Pier 3 warehouse is where we met Bobby and E."
"E? Who's E?"
"We're not sure. We think he might be with the mayor's office. He told us that there was something hidden in the Schafer Building that someone close to the mayor wanted destroyed. He said they were going to burn the building down before it gets demolished next week. Only, get this, he wanted to have a head start on us, or so he said, so he had Bobby chain us to the wall."
"Great Caesar's ghost!"
"Luckily, um, Superman was in the area and he freed us. We were over at the Schafer Building when the warehouse blew up."
"So you didn't recognize this E person? No idea why he'd want to blow you two up?"
"He was in the shadows, we couldn't see him."
"What about Bobby? Did he know him?"
"We haven't had a chance to talk to Bobby yet. Clark went back down to the warehouse to talk to Henderson. We think it's best if E believes we're dead. We don't think it would be safe to go back to our places. Is there any chance we can use Kennebrew's hideaway at the marina?"
"I'm sure that will be fine. He's out of town for the next few weeks and he's left the keys with me. Do you want me to meet you down there?"
"Sure. Give me an hour and I'll meet you there." I don't care what Clark said, I need to stop by my apartment first. He must be insane if he thinks I'm going to live in these clothes for the next who-knows-how-long. The marina is across town, so it's theoretically right on my way.
I open the door to my apartment and stop cold. It's been trashed.
I can't move — I'm in shock. Tears well up in my eyes, but they aren't tears of sorrow. I'm angry. So angry, in fact, that I can't help but cry. After everything else that has happened this morning this is just the very last thing I could cope with.
Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I know I must look deranged as I wander around my apartment, sobbing with rage and my own impotence. Today has spun so completely out of my control. I sputter and choke when I see what they did to my awards case. The glass is broken and one of my Kerth awards is on the floor with the base broken off. I pick up the two pieces and stare at them in mute resentment.
I'm pretty sure E did this. I just want to know why. Who is this guy that wants us dead? Who hates me enough to vandalize my apartment after he thinks he's killed me?
"Are you okay?" Clark's voice asks from behind me. It should startle me but instead I feel only a weary resignation. That's what I get for leaving the door open after I came in.
I nod, not trusting my voice yet. I swat away the tears with the back of my hand and then set what's left of my Kerth back in the display case. I walk towards my bedroom without looking back at him.
The view from my bedroom door is just as horrifying. The mattress from my bed is on the floor. It's been slashed so that the stuffing and coils are visible. My drawers are all open and their contents are strewn across the floor.
"What…?" It's the only word I can form. Spots dance in my vision and I have to lean against the door's frame for support.
Clark takes my arm. "Come sit down for a minute."
I pull away from him. "I need to pack some clothes." My eyes tear up again and my chest feels heavy and tight. "I just need to get some stuff and then I'll leave, okay?"
"Okay," he agrees softly.
"Maybe you should go check your place while I pack." I stop at the pile on the floor in front of my closet. This morning all this stuff was *in* my closet. My gym bag is on top and I grab it. I'm in no mood to go searching for my suitcase.
"You'll be alright here alone?" Clark asks.
"Look at this!" I can't help the high pitch of my voice. "Look at my tv! What in the hell was he trying to accomplish?"
My television has been tipped off its stand and is lying screen-down on the floor. I tip it upright and see that the screen has been smashed.
"Wasn't it enough to blow me up? Why did he have to ransack my apartment too?"
"I'll stay here with you." Clark comes over and bends to pick up the tv.
"No!" I put my hand out to stop him. "We shouldn't touch anything! Just leave it. Go! Go get whatever you're going to need and I'll meet you at Winch's with Perry." I freeze as I realize what's missing from my nightstand. I rush over, dropping to my knees to look under the bed.
"Oh my god! It's not here!" I frantically scramble over to the mattress and try to lift it. Clark sees my struggle and picks it up. I search through the sheets and blankets on the floor but it's not there.
"What's not here?" Clark asks.
"My laptop! It was on my nightstand when I left this morning!" Grief, even deeper than the smashed Kerth award, overwhelms me. There were six years of story notes and sources on that laptop. Not to mention the latest draft of my novel. I made edits to it just last night. I haven't backed it up at work for ages. All gone now. The loss is devastating.
"He took my laptop!" I feel absolutely hollowed out inside — how can Clark just stand there so calmly?
"You're sure?" Clark gently sets the mattress back down on top of the bed.
"Of course I'm sure! I know at least that much! I may not be able to spot Superman when I spend nearly every waking moment with him, but I know my own apartment! I know that much!"
It's too much all of a sudden. Clark, my apartment, my laptop, my Kerth, my bed… I rush on, knowing that I'm ranting but getting a small bit of satisfaction out of the shocked and hurt expression on Clark's face. "Why are you still here? I thought I asked you to go, just leave. Please! I don't need you here hovering around and being solicitous! There's nothing you can do to help *now*! Where the hell were you while this was happening? That's when I needed you! You can run off to help everyone else but you did nothing to prevent this! Just go away!"
"Alright," he says quietly. "I told Henderson we'd meet him in the alley behind the Schafer Building at three o'clock."
I turn my back on him and pick up the gym bag again, intent on packing and getting away from here. "Fine. I'll meet you there." I start scooping up clothes at random, not really paying attention to what I'm packing in the bag. I know that if I stop moving I'll fall apart completely. I turn around, ready to lash out at Clark again but he's not there.
And that's the final straw. Yes, I told him to leave. But he didn't have to actually go and do it. I sink into the jumbled mess of t-shirts and lingerie on my floor feeling as if my heart is actually breaking. I sob freely, giving in completely to the despair. I've never felt so helpless, so lost, so out of control before.
Realizing that only makes me cry harder.
"Are you alright, honey?" Perry looks worried. I look a mess. I managed to repack my gym bag after I cried myself out but that was as far as my initiative went. I didn't do anything about my makeup beyond swiping away the tracks of my melted mascara.
"I'm fine, Chief. It's just been a long day."
He looks at his watch. "It's only two-thirty."
"What's your point?"
"Ah, well," Perry gives my shoulder a reassuring pat. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
"He was going to get stuff from his apartment. We're meeting Henderson at three o'clock."
"Alright. Well, I've got Jimmy looking into the history of the Schafer Building."
"Thanks." I put out my hand for the keys.
Perry pulls the keys from his pocket and gives them to me. "You'll let me know if you need anything else?"
"And call and let me know where you are on this thing?"
Perry looks reluctant to leave. "You're sure you're okay?"
"Never better." I open the door and step inside. Perry continues to linger outside. "Are you coming in?" I ask, hoping that he won't.
"No, ah, I'd better be getting back to the Planet. You'll call me if you need anything?"
"Yes, I promise."
"Good girl." He gives me a smile and pulls the door shut, leaving me all alone.
As soon as he's gone I regret pushing him to leave. I should never have agreed to stay here. We've only been here once before, on a stakeout to watch Sheldon Bender. Not only did that stakeout end with Sheldon getting killed, it was also our "almost first date" and that didn't end well either.
It was the first time Clark had asked me out. I had started to see him as dating potential, although it seemed like a bad idea. He had been dating Mayson Drake and, as much as I hate to admit it, I was jealous of her. I didn't want to get involved in some sick triangle but my competitive hackles were raised. However, instead of showing him my charming and flirty side, I ended up getting sick on Chinese food.
Kennebrew's condo is also where Clark opened that magically chilled bottle of champagne. I give myself a mental whack to the head. Instantly cold champagne, exploding light bulbs… and I call myself an investigative reporter? Then again, he distracted me. With nothing more than a quick tumble onto the couch, a pair of jeans and a tight t-shirt. It doesn't sound like much, but I assure you, it was a distraction.
I stop at the couch in question, dropping my gym bag onto it. I flush, thinking about how it felt to lie on top of him. How neither of us was in a hurry to move from that position. How he carried me from the couch to the bedroom door. I've spent more nights than I'd care to admit thinking about how things might have gone differently that night.
I feel just the teensiest bit bad about yelling at Clark earlier. I know I should apologize but I have no idea what to say.
As I leave to meet with Clark and Henderson I can't help but wonder if I would have been better off left chained to that pipe this morning. It would be a lot less to deal with.
Clark and Inspector Henderson are both at the Schafer Building before me. Henderson speaks first. "I was just telling your partner here that the preliminary results came back on your bomb. It was a remote detonation and it seems to have a distinctive signature to it."
"Whose signature?" I ask.
"Dermot Delaney. He had ties to Intergang."
"Dermot Delaney? You mean 'The Engineer'? The guy they killed off last year after they found him skimming profits?"
"That's the one."
"Clark, do you think 'E' could mean 'Engineer'?" I look over at Clark but he doesn't meet my gaze.
Clark turns to Henderson. "Wasn't Delaney's body identified by his dental records?"
"You got it," Henderson says. "When we fished him out of the Hobbs River there wasn't much left to him."
"What if someone switched his records?" I ask. "Isn't it possible that Delaney is still alive?"
"But why would he go after us? And why wait until now? The guy's been dead for over six months." Clark doesn't even look at me as he shoots my idea down. The slight hurts more than the way he just dismissed my theory.
Henderson shrugs. "All I know is someone wants you two out of the picture. I don't suppose you have any vacation plans you want to put into action, do you?"
Neither of us answers so Henderson moves on. "Okay, just promise me you'll be careful. If we have to count you two we've got three homicides so far today. This is ruining our stats. If I have any questions for you I'll leave a message at the Planet."
"What if we need to get in touch with you?" I ask.
"Leave a message with my office. You don't have to leave your name, just tell 'em it's regarding my dentist appointment."
As Henderson walks away I turn to Clark. "Did you see Bobby when you went back to the warehouse earlier?"
"No," Clark shakes his head, but still won't look over at me.
"I'm going to go find him and see if he knows anything about E that's useful." I head out of the alley, wondering if it's duty or curiosity that compels him to follow.
By six o'clock it's obvious that Bobby has fled town. One of his co-workers at the buffet told us that he came in around noon, nervous and jumpy, picked up his check and left quickly. We checked his other usual haunts but no one else had seen him.
"He's probably worried that he's going to be implicated in killing us," I say as we leave the Fifth Street Mission, the last place on our 'Where's Bobby?' list.
"Or he's worried that he's next," Clark adds.
We are, at least, talking to each other. The last few hours have been spent in a sort of polite avoidance. We only communicate when necessary. Clark has taken great pains not to come too near me. It's odd not to feel comfortable with him but I still have no idea how to apologize. Why should I apologize anyway? Tell me one thing I said that wasn't true. He's the liar, not me. I've been hovering between anger and remorse all afternoon. It's exhausting. I'm exhausted. I just want to go home and crawl into bed. It depresses me even more that I have no bed left to crawl into.
Clark raises his hand to flag a cab. I want to bicker with him about wasting the money. After all, he could just fly us to the marina. But that would involve fighting with him and I don't have the energy. Flying with him would involve touching him and I'm not sure I could handle that right now either.
A cab stops and Clark holds the door open for me. I can't fault him his manners — those have always been impeccable. That should have been another clue, shouldn't it?
Oh god, it feels so good to sit down. What was I thinking wearing heels today?
"Where to?" the cabbie asks.
Clark looks at me, or rather, at my shoulder. "Are you hungry?"
"Not really." I shake my head. I haven't eaten since breakfast but it would take too much effort to be worth bothering now.
"The marina," Clark tells the cab driver.
As the cab pulls away from the curb I turn to face Clark. "Don't you need to get anything from your place?"
"No, I, uh, already went by there and took my bag to the marina." He still won't look at me.
"Oh. Did they do the same thing to your apartment?"
"Yes." He looks out the window as he answers and I feel a rush of sympathy.
"How bad is it?"
"About the same as your place. They tore the mattress to pieces, gutted the closet, emptied all my drawers." He shakes his head wearily. "They took my laptop and every notepad I had at home."
"So this must go back to a story we worked on -something in our notes. We did several stories about Dermot Delaney."
"Including the one about his death," Clark finally looks me in the eye. He looks as tired as I feel. Does he really get tired? Or is this just another act?
"It would be easy for someone with Delaney's clout to switch records. My gut feeling is that he's still alive." Not that he's giving any credence to my gut feelings — then again, why should he? I'm easily fooled.
"But why would he want to kill us? Why now?"
"I don't know. Maybe he had to leave Metropolis for a while and now he's back to tie up the loose ends? There must have been something in all our story notes or he wouldn't have taken them. Something that he thought someone would find after our deaths."
"Maybe," Clark concedes grudgingly. "Okay, so if E is the Engineer, why didn't he just shoot us when we got to the warehouse?"
"Because he would have had to shoot Bobby, too? Maybe he is in on this…"
"Why tell us about the Schafer Building? Why chain us up? It would have been quicker to just shoot us. Do you want to know what I think, Lois?"
"What?" I'm distracted — he might be right. Why did he chain us up? Is Bobby in on this?
"I think E needed an alibi. He couldn't be anywhere near that warehouse when it blew up. So he chained us to the wall and fed us a fake story to keep us complacent. I'd bet that Bobby really did think he was coming back to release us."
"A dead man doesn't need an alibi, Clark."
"Exactly!" He taps his nose and then points at me. "But E isn't a dead man."
"Hmph." I turn to look out the window while I think.
"Our best bet is still to track down Bobby. Maybe after we get to the marina I could, um, Superman could fly around and see if he spots him."
I turn away from the window. "And what am I supposed to do in the meantime?"
"You could call Perry and have him get on our computers at the Planet and print out all the notes and stories we have on Dermot Delaney."
"I thought you said this had nothing to do with Delaney."
"I never said that. I said that E wasn't Delaney. But someone made a bomb using Delaney's signature. There must be a partner or someone out there who wants Delaney to be blamed. Why else would you make a bomb like that?"
"As a warning?" I venture. "E wants to put the fear of Delaney into someone else? But who? Someone at Intergang?"
Clark shrugs. "I don't know."
I go back to looking out the window. Somewhere in Metropolis there's a person who thinks he's killed us. Is it Delaney? Is Bobby in on this? Or is he dead in some back alley? The thought makes me queasy. I hope Clark can find him, safe and sound.
I call Perry as soon as I get to the condo and explain about Delaney's bomb. "… So we just need you to get on our computers…"
"Ah, no can do," Perry interrupts.
"While I was down at the marina with you this afternoon someone from Computer Support came by and picked up both your hard drives. He told Jimmy there was a virus on them and they had to be pulled from the mainframe."
"What!" I slump against the wall, unable to believe what I'm hearing. "What about all our notes? Can you bring me the notepads in my desk? My Rolodex?"
"Hold on a minute." Perry covers the mouthpiece so all I hear is his muffled bark at Jimmy. After a few moments I hear an indistinct conversation between Jimmy and Perry. Then, "Lois, I don't know how to tell you this…"
"Let me guess — they're gone."
"Lois?" It's Jimmy's voice. "I'm sorry. I got a call from some guy in Personnel asking me to put all your stuff in boxes. Perry said to go ahead and do it, that we'd put them in storage and hold them for you. I just checked the storage room and they're not there. I can look around…"
"No, Jimmy. Don't bother. They're gone."
"Not your fault." Truthfully I'd like to scream at both Jimmy and Perry but it really isn't their fault. "Don't apologize, Jimmy, really. Can you pull all past stories with any mention of Dermot Delaney for me? Perry can tell you where to bring them."
"Sure, I'll get right on it."
"Hey Lois?" It's Perry again.
"Is Clark there?"
What do I say? Obviously I can't tell him that Clark's out flying over Metropolis. But where else would he be?
"Uh, yeah. He's in the bathroom. Do you want me to give him a message?"
"No, that's alright. Check in with me again tomorrow. Good night."
I pace the room for a few minutes after I hang up the phone. My mind goes in circles. E has taken everything from us — or at least anything that would be useful in tracking him down. I feel trapped. It's so unfair. I can't stay here right now. I pick up my bag off the couch and rush into the bedroom to change into jeans and a more comfortable pair of shoes.
As soon as I'm changed I rush out the door onto the waterfront path. There's a little newsstand at the end of the marina, I'll go grab the evening edition. I'm curious to see what kind of coverage our deaths got.
The story is front page, but below the fold. I skim the article written by James Olsen. Warehouse explosion, cause unknown, police baffled. It mentions that two bodies were found inside and they're waiting for forensic identification. There's a picture of the warehouse in flames with Henderson and another cop off to the side.
I walk back to the condo slowly. The sun is setting and the river has turned a molten red. I can't help thinking that it's a sunset I wasn't meant to see. I look over my shoulder. No one is there. Still, it gives me an eerie feeling to know someone out there wants me dead. A couple holding hands strolls slowly towards me. They're far too into each other to notice anyone else.
Was it really only last night that Clark and I walked together like that?
Yet another thing I lost today, although that one might be more my fault. With new eyes I see last night differently. I know it's not productive but I can't help wallowing in the memory.
We had lingered over dinner, very much like our real first date. I smile, remembering how Clark literally walked into the restaurant's owner, Marco, and another customer as we left. He really is a klutz. He'd apologized profusely but Marco had seemed to take it in stride. I suggested that we walk back to my place instead of taking a cab, but only if he thought he was sober enough to make it. Clark had leaned on my shoulder and asked if I'd carry him
It had been so romantic. We held hands and bantered back and forth as we slowly walked home. We had stopped at the fountain in Centennial Park and Clark gave me all the change in his pockets to make wishes. Tonight I can only wish for that moment back.
When I wouldn't tell him what I wished for he had teased me, picking me up and threatening to toss me in the fountain. As he set me back down I was sure he was going to kiss me. Instead he gave me a smile that promised it would be worth waiting until we got home. And that's when I started my mental machinations — I had to get him inside my apartment.
And then, right on my front steps, he made his excuses and left me standing there. I realize now that he was only off to rescue someone, probably from some life or death situation. But that doesn't change the rejection and frustration that I felt all night long. The rejection and frustration I've been feeling ever since we started getting close.
I started out on the wrong foot this morning, being angry with him over that. But how could he expect me not to get upset? Why couldn't he have just told me the truth back when his disappearances first became an issue? Sure, he said he wanted to tell me, but the cold fact remains that he didn't.
How can we get back to last night? How can I ever look at him the same again? After the blow up in my apartment he won't even look directly at me. I know I've hurt him but can't he understand how badly he hurt me? I can't take back what I said anymore than he can take back all the lies.
I know I'm being irrational. I know that Clark's lies were done as self-preservation. That still doesn't make me feel any better. He should have told me!
I walk back to the condo in a funk. Once I'm inside I sit on the couch, spreading the newspaper out on the coffee table in front of me. I reread the story about the warehouse. Judging by the picture, the area we were locked up in has been completely gutted. An anxious flutter goes through my stomach. We missed that by only a few minutes. Well, I missed that. Clark would have been fine.
I hear the door open and look up to see Clark adjusting his tie. It dawns on me that it wasn't some obsessive-compulsive tic, he was just getting dressed again.
"Is that tonight's paper?" he asks.
"Yeah." I have to slide the paper more to the center of the coffee table since Clark sits at the far end of the couch. If he meant that as a snub then it's working. I didn't think I could feel any more miserable today but I was wrong. "Did you find Bobby?"
"No." Clark pulls the paper closer to himself. "I don't think he's in Metropolis. I just hope he's okay."
We both think about that for a moment. Then Clark breaks the silence. "Is Perry bringing over our notes?"
"Gone. Our hard drives, our notes, Rolodexes, everything. Gone. Jimmy's going to bring over all past articles about Delaney but, honestly, I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear that E managed to get into the archives and steal those too."
"You seem to be taking this pretty well," Clark says.
"What's that supposed to mean?" I stand up, spoiling for a fight.
"Nothing. Forget I said it." He doesn't even look up, pretending to be engrossed in the paper.
"No, you meant something by that. You think I'm being irrational about all this, don't you? You think I've gone over the edge on this one. You think I'm being hysterical!" It irritates me all the more that he continues reading during my tirade and then he interrupts me.
"Lois, did you see this?"
"See what? You didn't answer my question."
"This," he points to an article. "Marco Canfora died in a house fire this morning."
"What?" I take the paper from him.
'An early morning fire broke out in the New Troy home of restaurateur Marco Canfora. Initial reports from the fire marshal's office indicate that the fire started from smoking a cigarette in bed…'
"Poor Marco," I say, momentarily distracted from my own problems. I sit back down, the urge to fight with Clark has left me. "Was that where you went last night?"
"No — Marco died this morning. I wasn't in Metropolis this morning." He flips through the newspaper in a blur then shoves it in my direction. "I was in the Alps." His voice has gone cold and distant.
I look down at the paper. '20 Car Pileup In Alpine Tunnel'.
"Oh," I say, feeling very small.
He tilts his head and says, "I have to go." This time he doesn't stop after he spins into the Suit, he's just a red and blue blur before the front door slams.
I've heard enough of Clark's flimsy excuses to know one when I hear one. I'd bet what's left of my apartment that there was no emergency. He just didn't want to be around me.
I can't blame him. Right now I don't want to be around me either.
Sleep is not happening for me.
I miss my home. It's not that the condo isn't nice. It's cozy enough but it was intended more for a weekend fling than a nowhere-else-to-go hideout. The bed smells faintly of someone else's perfume. I'm too tired to change the sheets but not so tired that the scent doesn't irritate me. I can't fall asleep though. With my eyes closed I see my apartment again. Why make such a mess? What were they looking for?
Why try to kill us?
And then, for at least the thousandth time today, I remember with a jolt that Clark is Superman.
I know it's true — I've seen the evidence with my own eyes. He changed into the Suit and flew off right in front of me. My best friend is the Man of Steel. It's just too weird.
This is all just some surreal, bizarre, bad dream. Any minute now I'm going to wake up and my life will be normal again.
I open my eyes. I'm not in my bed. I'm hiding in a mini-condo on the marina to stay alive. I feel so lost. Nothing in my life is the same tonight. In a single day I lost my apartment, my novel, six years of notes… and my best friend.
I guess I haven't really lost my best friend. He's just not the person I thought he was. I don't know which is harder to accept — that Clark is Superman or that he's been lying to me all this time. Yes, he's tried to tell me. The point is that he didn't until today. And now that he has told me, I've been an absolute jerk about the entire thing.
Sudden tears sting my eyes and I can feel my throat closing off. There's no good direction for my thoughts to go. Instead, they zoom back and forth like a pinball. Clark, my apartment, years of work stolen, Clark, my apartment. Clark… I've been so rotten to him today. How many times since I met him have I acted irrationally and he still continues to be gentle and good-natured with me? With shame I recall how our first date ended. How I slammed the door in his face. Any one else would have written me off.
But not Clark.
"Clark," I whisper, wondering if he can hear me. Is he even back yet? "I'm sorry…" My breath hitches and I blink hard, trying to keep the tears at bay. "Can you hear me? Clark?"
I wait, my ears straining to hear… what? What did I think he would do?
I sit up. Was that the door or am I driving myself crazy?
"Clark? Is that you?"
The frosted glass of the door shimmers as it opens. Then my nerves kick in. What the hell am I going to say? My hand is shaking as I reach over to turn on the bedside light.
"Did you call me?" Clark asks as he steps into the room. He's in gray sweatpants and a dark sleeveless shirt. His hair is mussed up — I've dragged him out of sleep. As horrid as I've been to him today, he still came when I called. If only he wasn't so damn nice. It brings tears to my eyes all over again.
"Hey, no, Lois, it's okay…" In an instant he's kneeling next to the bed. His hand cradles my face, his thumb brushing my tears away.
"I wish you weren't so nice to me." I will the tears to stop but it's not working.
"What?" He looks genuinely puzzled.
"I'm sorry, Clark. I'm sorry for what I said at my apartment. I didn't mean it. I've just felt so out of control and scared today. I've said and done a lot of stuff I never usually would. I just…"
"I know," he murmurs, gently tucking a strand of hair behind my ear.
"I never should have lashed out at you like that. It's just that nothing is what I thought it was today, you know?"
"I do, I know that. It's been a long day."
"Yes," I snuffle. "That's what I told Perry."
"It's going to be okay." He rises and sits on the edge of the bed. Then he touches my cheek. "I promise, I won't let anyone hurt you."
I give him a watery smile. "I know." As Clark or Superman, I've always known that.
"Clark…?" I hesitate, uncertain how to explain myself.
"Yes?" His voice is soft and reassuring. Oddly enough that makes what I want to say both easier and more difficult.
I take a deep breath. I owe him at least this much. "I… I'm still not used to the idea that you're Superman, but I'm getting there. And part of the reason I was so awful to you today is because I feel like an idiot for never figuring it out. It was easier to be angry with you instead of myself."
"Lois, I've never thought you were an idiot. Believe me, it's been exhausting trying to stay one step ahead of everyone, but especially you. I really have wanted to tell you but I was worried…"
"That I would act exactly like I did today?"
"Well, there were a few extenuating circumstances, but yeah."
"You know me so well." He smiles, but it disappears quickly after I say, "And I don't know you at all."
"No, Lois, that's just it. You *do* know me. There was just one thing that you didn't know. But the stuff that really matters, who I am inside, you already knew that."
I sniffle. Clark reaches over and picks up the box of tissues on the nightstand and holds it out to me.
"Thanks." I take one and blow my nose.
"Sure." He puts the box back.
"Can I ask you a personal question?"
He looks surprised but he nods. "Okay."
"How do you do it? Fly, I mean."
"How do I fly?" He blinks. I guess this isn't a question he was expecting.
"I finally have the chance for a real one-on-one, completely off-the-record, only to satisfy my own curiosity, conversation with Superman. I can ask you the questions I would ask Clark, but could never work up the nerve to ask Superman. So tell me, Clark, how do you do it?"
He looks at his hands as he considers the question. After a few moments he shrugs. "I don't know, that's like asking how you walk, you know? Walking isn't something you put a lot of thought into."
He sees I'm disappointed with his answer. "I have to think about it a little. I mean, I put my hand up," he raises his right arm. "And then I just kinda push up…" He floats a few inches off the bed. "Once I'm going, it's not hard but I do have to…" He floats back onto the bed. "I have to let go of gravity, if that makes sense."
"Anything else you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask?"
I let out a choked laugh. "Actually, some of those questions got answered when you told me you were Superman."
"Like where Superman goes when he's not flying around. If he eats. If he sleeps. If he has a home, friends, a life."
"If the Suit comes off?" he teases.
I blush, remembering the time he told me Superman was in the shower at his apartment and I blurted out that inappropriate question. To cover my embarrassment I shove his shoulder. "Yeah, stuff like that."
He catches my hand, holding it in his own. His finger traces over the bruise the handcuff left. My skin tingles at his light touch. "Can I ask you a personal question?"
"Sure." Is it his touch or the hesitancy in his voice that makes me shiver?
"When all this is over and we have our lives back, will you go out with me again?"
"Go out with you?" I repeat, uncertain if I heard him right. "You mean you still want to date me? After the way I acted today?"
"Lois, there's no one in the world I'd rather be with."
My heart stutters. "I, um, I… yes. I can't think of anyone else I'd rather be with."
"And if I have to leave suddenly you won't take it personally?"
"No," I squeeze his hand. "I won't take it personally."
"I never meant to hurt you. I'm sorry that I did." He squeezes my hand back and leans forward to place a light kiss on my cheek. I turn my head so that he catches the corner of my mouth instead. He freezes in surprise so I kiss him directly on the lips. After a moment's hesitation he returns the kiss.
It's the first thing about him all day that's exactly the same.
Then he breaks the kiss and stands up. "You'll be alright now?"
Disappointment floods through me at the realization that he's going back out to the couch. "You could sleep in here, you know. I trust you." The words come out in a rush.
"Lois," his voice has gone husky. "Don't take this the wrong way, there's nothing I'd like more than sharing a bed with you. But it's been a long day and we're both feeling vulnerable." He gives me a regretful smile.
"So all that super-resolve you seem to have is just an illusion?"
"As far as you're concerned? Definitely."
"Oh." My voice has gone small as my imagination goes into hyper-drive.
"Good night." He turns to leave.
I watch him walk across the room, taking in the sight of his bare arms and broad shoulders. I remember how good he looked the last time we stayed here, how I saw his silhouette through the door. How in the hell did I never realize that Clark's considerable physique was just like Superman's?
I think again about the way he kept himself so distant as Superman and the difference in the way he's kissed me as Clark. But even kissing me as Clark I sensed that he was holding back. Was it because he wanted me to know about Superman first? Or because he didn't trust himself?
What would it take to push him over the edge of that control?
I wake up to the sound of running water. There's a moment of confusion as I try to place the source. The shower? Someone's in the shower? I open my eyes to an unfamiliar room and sit up abruptly. Where the heck am I?
Yesterday comes back in sharp focus. Clark lasering the handcuff off. The warehouse bomb. My apartment broken into. All my notes and work gone. Clark going back to the next room to sleep… It must be Clark in the shower. The Suit definitely comes off.
The water turns off and, a moment later, Clark opens the bathroom door. He's fully dressed, though his hair is still wet. He stops when he sees me, an amused expression spreading across his face.
"Hi," I say, feeling unaccountably shy.
"Hi." He gestures behind him. "The bathroom's free."
"Do I look that bad? Smell that bad? What's that supposed to mean?"
His grin widens and he shakes his head. "I'll go get us some breakfast while you get ready. Is there anything in particular you'd like?"
Now I'm feeling really paranoid. "Um, whatever sounds good to you is fine with me."
He leaves and I rush into the bathroom. When I look into the mirror I let out a little shriek. My hair is beyond tousled. My eyes are red and puffy — an entire day of crying will do that to you. There are still traces of mascara underneath my eyes. I'm horrified that he saw me like this.
After a shower and the most rudimentary of hair styling I come out to find Clark sitting on the couch and leafing through a stack of papers.
"Jimmy came by while you were in the shower," Clark says. "I've gone through the articles we wrote and made some notes." He holds up a cup of coffee. "Why don't you eat and I'll summarize?"
I take the cup and sit next to him on the couch. "What's in the box?" I ask, reaching to grab the white pastry box sitting on the coffee table in front of him.
"Pain au chocolate." He hands the box to me.
I take a bite and moan appreciatively. "Mmmm, where did you get these from?"
He smiles and shakes his head. "I'm not going to tell you all my secrets."
"Then tell me what's in your notes." I take another bite, closing my eyes to savor it. When I open them again Clark makes a show of looking at the notes he's holding. But I caught him — he was watching me. "Your notes?" I prompt, secretly thrilled that I might have the same power over him that he exerts over me.
"Lou Falzone was our source for the initial story."
"Lou Falzone," I repeat, unable to place the name.
"You remember Toni Taylor?" he asks.
"She took over Metros and went to jail for masterminding the Toasters. You were dating her." I blow on my coffee, waiting for him to come to the point.
"I wasn't exactly dating her…" He shakes his head and then apparently decides it's not worth the argument. "You remember Lou from the Metro Club? He was Toni's second-in-command. After the Metros fell apart, Intergang stepped in to fill the void. Some of the Metros were absorbed into Intergang, including Lou Falzone."
I nod and take a cautious sip. It burns my tongue so I set the cup down.
"Lou went on to be a low-level gangster in Intergang. He was trying to climb the corporate ladder, so to speak, and had an axe to grind against Delaney."
"He was using us."
"Sure, but there was a story in it. Lou told us that Delaney was skimming profits and laundering the money through a pawn shop in the West River area."
"Right." This all sounds vaguely familiar to me. "Didn't we sit outside that pawn shop for days to keep track of who was coming and going?"
"Yep. And every morning at eight o'clock Delaney would go inside and come back out with a bank deposit bag. But, and there was no way to tell you this at the time, he always carried more money in than he took back out."
"Hmph." I blow on the coffee some more to cover my irritation. "Like that's helpful to know now. Besides, it was only after I went inside and talked to Larry that we caught a break."
"Ah," Clark takes on a faraway look. "I don't need notes to remember that. You wore that trashy outfit…"
"Oh definitely. It was trashy, but the good kind of trashy."
"There's a good kind of trashy?"
"When you're wearing it?" He gives me a lecherous wink. "All trashy is good."
To cover my rising discomfort I take a gulp of coffee, choking on it as I realize that it's still too hot.
Clark pats my back. "You okay?"
"Yes," I wheeze. "It was Larry who ratted him out. He told me he wasn't getting a fair share of the profits."
"I don't know." Clark tries for deadpan but I can see the smirk. "If you'd interrogated me dressed like that I might have confessed to being Superman a lot sooner."
I ignore him, feeling suddenly intimidated. Innuendo with Clark was easy. Innuendo with Superman is just… a little frightening.
"So we wrote the first article which only implied that someone in Intergang was skimming profits. We didn't name Delaney or the pawn shop." I take another bite of pastry, trying to get my thoughts back on task.
"Right. It wasn't a big article and it was buried pretty deep in the paper. But the next day we heard from Lou again. He was worried that the story was too vague so we told him to get us something more concrete. He gave us the account ledgers that showed that Delaney was taking in more money in protection than he was depositing in Intergang's account. After we wrote about that, Delaney disappeared." Clark stops, staring at my mouth.
"What?" I ask around a mouthful of pastry.
He points to the corner of his mouth. "You have some chocolate…"
"Oh." I swallow and then lick the corner of my mouth. "Did I get it?"
He's still staring at my mouth. After a moment his face reddens and he looks down at the notepad in his hand.
I remember what he said last night about his lack of resolve around me. I'm suddenly very aware that we're completely alone in this condo. There's no phone to interrupt, no co-workers to wander past, no neighbors to come borrow a cup of sugar.
"We did another article, after Delaney disappeared." I search my memory, but it's difficult to do when Clark's leg is only a few inches from mine. I can feel the heat from his body and it ratchets my awareness of him proportionally. If only he wasn't such a good kisser, I wouldn't have this problem.
Where was I? "Umm… After Delaney disappeared and the accounting scandal moved to the front page it came out that about two million dollars were missing. Maybe Delaney arranged his own death so he could come back for the money later?"
"But that still doesn't explain why he'd want to kill us now." Clark keeps darting glances at my mouth as he talks.
"True." I watch his hands, turning a pen over and over.
"Let's look at it from another angle." Clark drops the pen onto the coffee table and stands up, pacing the room as he talks. "What if E was Delaney's partner? Lou said he thought there was another guy in on this."
"Larry from the pawn shop? He left town after the shop closed." I feel relieved that he's no longer sitting next to me. And disappointed.
"Not Larry. This was someone in the upper levels of Intergang. Maybe they think we've figured out who they are."
"But why would they think that? We haven't written anything about Delaney in months."
"I don't know." Clark stops pacing. He looks out the front window, his back to me.
It's raining outside, a gray drizzle that doesn't make going anywhere look appealing. It's the perfect kind of day for curling up in bed with a thick book. Until we track down E, though, I won't really have a bed to curl up in. I stand up, mentally girding myself for battle.
"Let's go find Lou. Maybe he knows who Delaney's partner was."
"Wait," Clark turns and strides purposefully over to me. My breath catches as his hand covers my cheek. I wait, heart thudding, thinking that he's about to kiss me. Instead his thumb brushes over the corner of my mouth. "You still have chocolate…"
As his hand moves away I think 'two can play that game!' I grab his hand and draw it back to my mouth, licking the chocolate off his thumb before letting go. He goes absolutely still, his mouth parted in astonishment. For a moment we just look at each other and I think the room is about to spontaneously combust.
I lean in close enough that I'm almost kissing him. "I'm just testing your resolve. It's… one of those things I always wanted to know but was afraid to ask."
"And what happens when you push it too far?"
I move even closer so that my lips brush his as I murmur, "You tell me."
I can feel his smile against my lips. "I'd rather show you." His mouth opens against mine, his tongue sliding across my lower lip. His arms go around me, pulling me solidly against him. Oh my god, this is even better than I remembered. He tastes like coffee and chocolate, my own mocha Clark.
Then, suddenly, he steps back. "Let's go talk to Lou."
Lou? Lou who? His breathing is just as ragged as mine and he can stand there and talk about Lou? Then I realize he's just making a point. It's going to take more than a little flirting and a kiss to shatter his self-control.
"Okay," I say as if nothing has happened. "Let's go talk to Lou."
As we leave the condo I realize that a gauntlet has just been thrown. Game on, Kent.
It's early in the day and the front door of the Metro Club is locked. Clark and I walk around to the service entrance to get inside. I head for the office and knock on the door. No one answers.
"There's no one in the office." Clark pushes his glasses back into place.
We head down the hallway and onto the stage. There are two men over at the bar, neither one looks up as we come on stage.
"Hello?" I call out to them. "We're looking for Lou?"
The older of the two, a heavy-set man with dark hair turns to face us. "Who's looking?"
"Hi Lou," says Clark. "You helped us out on a story last year. We just need to ask you a few questions."
"Oh yeah…" Lou nods vigorously, recognizing us now. "How ya doin'? Any chance you came here to sing? We could use a singer."
"No, sorry. My singing days are over." I give him a smile, but I am flattered to be asked. For one brief moment during another story I actually got to live out a secret fantasy.
"Can we talk privately?" Clark asks.
"Sure, sure. Head on back to the office and I'll be there in a minute."
"I can't believe he remembers that I sang here," I say to Clark as we walk back to the office.
"Lois, no one who was here that night has forgotten it. You were sensational."
"Really?" Okay, so I'm fishing, but it's still nice to hear.
Lou comes into the office and waves us to some chairs. He sits behind the desk and steeples his fingers in front of him. "So what can I do for you?"
"We need to ask you some follow-up questions about Dermot Delaney," Clark says.
"Delaney! Seriously? Delaney's been dead for months now. Are you looking for the money? Is that it? They never did find it did they?"
"You had said that you thought Delaney had a partner?" Clark answers him with a question.
Lou stares at his fingers for a few seconds and then sighs. "Yeah, I think there was a partner. All that money had to go somewhere. They never found any of it at the pawnshop or in his bank account. He had to be stashing it away through someone else."
"But you don't know who it was?" I prompt.
Lou shrugs. "Hey, you know, I decided it was better to stay here with some job security than to go any higher. I don't want to end up like Delaney."
"You didn't answer the question." I point out.
"Why are you looking into this now?" Lou counters.
"Because, according to the bomb squad, Delaney tried to kill us yesterday," I say.
Lou's eyebrows rise in surprise. "Delaney tried to kill you?"
Clark speaks up. "Whether it was Delaney or not, the connection is worth looking into."
Lou nods and picks at the edge of his desk calendar. "Look, I want to help. I just… give me an hour, okay? I'll make some calls and meet you at the end of the pier. But don't come back in here, okay? If it is Delaney, I don't want nothin' to do with it."
The rain that was drizzling earlier is falling in earnest as we leave the Metro Club. As we pass a coffee shop I decide it would be better to sit inside while we wait to meet with Lou. Clark goes to the counter to order and I sit in the closest booth.
"Who do you think Lou's going to call?" Clark asks as he sets down a tray laden with two cups of coffee and three doughnuts.
"I don't know. Maybe he has to call Delaney? Tell him that we're still out walking around." I take a coffee and push the plate of doughnuts away.
"Admit it, Clark. It's possible that he's still alive."
"It's possible, but not probable." He picks up the chocolate frosted doughnut and takes a bite.
"So is the theory of intelligent life on other planets."
He narrows his eyes at me. "That's an entirely different argument."
"Because you know darn well there's at least one other planet with intelligent life."
"Life, yes. Intelligent is still debatable."
"Boy, you really don't take being wrong well, do you?" He takes another bite, this time a little bit of the frosting sticks to his lip. I watch it, beginning to appreciate why he was so distracted earlier.
"I'm not wrong. Delaney's still alive." Why doesn't he just lick his lips and make it go away?
"What?" I lick my bottom lip but he doesn't take the hint.
"How much do you want to bet?"
"How much are you willing to lose?"
He considers it for a moment. "Loser buys dinner." Finally! He licks the chocolate away.
"Then I hope you're ready to buy me a very expensive dinner."
"Don't count your dinner before it hatches, Lois."
"What's this about an expensive dinner?" a voice says from the booth behind Clark. Bobby Bigmouth looks over the top of the booth.
"Bobby!" we both exclaim. I gesture for him to join us. He slides onto the seat next to me and swipes a doughnut from the plate.
"You guys don't know how happy I am to see you." I know he's telling the truth because he finishes speaking before he shoves the entire doughnut into his mouth.
"We looked everywhere for you yesterday." I tell him.
"Yeah, well, after I saw the warehouse I decided it might be best if I laid low for the night." Everyone has a talent. Bobby's is being able to speak distinctly with his mouth full.
"Do you know who E is?" Clark asks.
"Then how…" I start but Bobby hurries to answer.
"I got a big envelope from Drew, he's a guy I know from way back. Anyway, Drew said the guy had specifically asked for me to help him out. There was a note explaining everything along with the handcuffs. And a hundred dollar gift certificate for Marco's."
"Do you still have the note?" Clark asks.
"You gonna eat that?" Bobby points to the last doughnut.
"No, it's yours." Clark slides the plate closer to Bobby.
Bobby nods and reaches inside his jacket, pulling out a manila envelope folded into thirds. He unfolds it and pulls out a slip of paper before handing it to Clark.
"You don't mind if I keep the certificate, do you?" He holds up the paper. "Shame about Marco though, you heard about that, right?" Bobby adds and then takes a bite out of the last doughnut.
"He was smoking in bed and his house burned down," I say.
"No, not a house fire. Well, his house burned down, but it wasn't a cigarette that started it." Bobby inhales the rest of the doughnut.
"It wasn't?" Clark looks up from reading E's note.
"Hard to smoke when all your fingers have been broken. Somebody tortured Marco before they torched the place."
Clark and I exchange a look.
"You want my opinion?" Bobby leans forward, his voice dropping in pitch. "I never saw you. We haven't talked. If you two know what's good for you, you'll get off the street and stay that way. Move out west. There's plenty of sunshine out there." He waves his hand to indicate the rain outside. "Metropolis ain't healthy for you right now."
Bobby raps his knuckles on the table. "One last thing before I go. I have to ask — how did you get free?"
"Superman," I say, daring a quick smile at Clark. "Superman found us about twenty minutes after you left."
"Lucky break. Well… adios. And remember what I said. I may not know who E is, but I know he means business."
"Thanks, Bobby. Is it okay if we hang onto this stuff?" Clark holds up the note and envelope.
"All yours." Bobby picks up my coffee and takes a sip. He makes a face but doesn't give my coffee back when he leaves.
"Can I see the note?" I ask. Clark slides it across the table to me. It covers half a sheet of paper in neat block letters.
'CALL LOIS LANE AND CLARK KENT AND SET UP A MEETING FOR 9:30 THIS MORNING AT THE WAREHOUSE ON PIER 3. I HAVE INFORMATION FOR THEM THAT IS TIME SENSITIVE SO THEY WILL NEED TO BE DETAINED. USE THE ENCLOSED HANDCUFFS TO CHAIN THEM TO THE PIPE ON THE WALL. TAKE THEIR CELL PHONES AFTER YOU LOCK THEM UP. LEAVE WHEN I DO, BUT COME BACK IN TWO HOURS TO RELEASE THEM WITH THE ENCLOSED KEY.'
Clark tips the envelope and a small key clatters onto the table. Then he leans forward. "Lois, I have to go."
For a moment I think he means the restroom and I look up, ready to make a smart remark. Then I realize what he's saying. I glance at my watch. "Go, it's fine. I'll head over to meet with Lou. Just catch up to me there."
He smiles. "This is a lot easier than telling you I need to return a video."
"Go!" I shoo him away.
After he's gone I pick up the key from the table and consider it for a few moments before pocketing it. I might never tell him why, but I'm going to keep it. Think of it as a souvenir of his big secret.
Rain is still falling as I walk to the end of the pier. What was Lou thinking in meeting here? The wind has picked up and the river is full of choppy waves. I check my watch — Lou should have been here five minutes ago.
I take another step forward and the post next to me explodes. You know how they say that time slows down in emergency situations? It's true. It takes only a split second for me to realize that I'm being shot at. In the same instant I have time to wonder where Clark is and realize that I'm trapped out here on the pier. I drop to my stomach just as another bullet whizzes by overhead.
Completely panicked, I roll over the edge and into the dark water. Frantically I swim underneath the pier as I hear footsteps running towards me overhead. I want to swim towards land, but that's what they'll be expecting. Instead I swim towards the end of the pier sending a mental scream in Clark's direction the whole time.
I hear a "whomp" and realize that whoever it is has dropped down to look under the pier. I pull myself behind a piling on the opposite side and cling to it, waiting. I'm wearing a dark shirt, so hopefully I'll blend in with the water better. The water is so cold it's hard to keep my breathing even and quiet. The waves threaten to loosen my hold and drag me out into the open.
Over the wind I can hear the faint sounds of my attacker moving away from the edge. Then… nothing. Is he just standing there, waiting for me to move? I'm sure of it. I don't dare move. I tighten my grip on the piling and try to think warm thoughts. Minutes pass and my entire body is beginning to ache.
Where the hell is Clark?
The world is feeling fuzzier and fuzzier. The water doesn't even seem cold anymore. Distantly I realize that I'm going into hypothermia. I should probably feel bad about all this, but I don't. I have two choices — I can either make a break for it and get shot or I can stay here until I slip into unconsciousness and drown. I've heard drowning doesn't hurt at all so that seems very tempting.
Do I have any regrets? Plenty. I never did walk on the Great Wall of China. I never won a Pulitzer. Or a Grammy. I never told Perry that it was me who spilled coffee on his autographed 'Blue Hawaii' screenplay. But really, why would you leave something that valuable just lying around the office where anyone could accidentally ruin it? And I've never told Clark that I loved him as anything more than a friend.
I want to hang on, but it feels impossible. I'm shivering too hard to maintain my hold anymore. I flail in the water in one last desperate attempt but I can't seem to swim. The water burns in my throat as I choke.
Then I feel something solid against me. Dimly I realize that it's Clark. He's got me and we're flying. I try to put my arms around his neck but they still won't cooperate. I drift in and out of consciousness before I recognize that we're back at the condo. Clark is holding me wrapped up in a blanket in front of the fire. I feel like a sleepy child. Why am I not wet? Shouldn't I be soaked?
"Did you dry me off?" I ask, my voice sounds like it's coming from miles away.
"Yes." He kisses the top of my head.
"You're very handy to have around." I snuggle closer to him. There was something I was going to tell him, what was it?
"Lois? Can you tell me what happened? How'd you end up in the West River?"
"Ummm." I open my eyes, pulled away from sleep by his question. "I went to meet Lou and someone shot at me."
"Was it Lou?"
I shake my head. "I don't know. I don't think so, but I couldn't tell you either way. You didn't see anyone?"
"No. I came to find you at the pier and no one was around. I was about to head back here to the condo when I heard you."
"Oh." I yawn, still feeling overwhelmed with lethargy. Besides, if I wake up it will mean he won't be holding me anymore. There are far worse places I could be right now. Floating in the river. Down at the morgue. This is much better.
"So I guess Lou called Delaney's partner after we left the Club." I can feel the rumble of Clark's voice against my cheek as he talks. It's a nice sensation.
"Or he called Delaney to tell him we were on to him," I correct, feeling more awake now that I can argue with him.
"It's also possible that E just happened to see you while you were down at the pier."
"Because it's such a nice day for a walk?" I look up and see that Clark is smiling.
"Maybe not," he concedes.
I watch the reflection of the fire off his glasses for a moment. Then I reach up and take them off. He goes to stop me and then relaxes. "Force of habit," he says sheepishly.
"Tell me again why you wear them. I know you said you've had them since before you were Superman. But what happened, specifically, to make you get them?"
He lets out a small chuckle. "You know how sometimes you just stare off into space?"
"I was doing that and I burned a hole through the kitchen table. My mom came up with the idea of using the lens to distract my eye." He shrugs. "And it worked. It especially came in handy once I got to Metropolis and started being Superman."
"You also said you did it so you didn't invade people's privacy."
He reddens a little. "Yeah. That too."
I raise my eyebrows, waiting for him to elaborate.
"All the stuff I do as Superman? It's kind of like the flying. I have to think about it a little. You know, kinda squint at it or concentrate. I don't just see through things unless I try."
"But you must have seen something…"
He sighs. "It's an invasion of people's privacy. I don't look unless I need to."
"And you're telling me you've never looked? Never once?"
He's definitely blushing. "Once. Years ago."
"Who was she?"
"Just… some girl."
"Lois, I was a lot younger and less mature. It was a rotten thing to do and I still regret it. I had no right."
"And you've never looked since?"
"No." He shakes his head emphatically.
"Never even been tempted to peek?"
He tenses a little. "I've never even peeked."
"I asked if you were tempted, not if you peeked."
He hesitates. "I've been tempted."
It's his hesitation that drives my need to know. "When? When were you tempted to look? And at who?"
He shifts me off his lap. "Lois, maybe we ought to think about getting something for dinner."
"Come on, Superman. I'm asking you a direct question. You asked if there was anything else I always wanted to know. I want to know who you've been peeking at."
"I thought our interview ended last night."
"I reserve the right to ask questions as they occur to me. I have two years worth of questions; they aren't going to surface all at once."
"You already know the answer."
"Maybe. But I want to hear you say it."
He looks past me into the fire. "You," he says softly. "It was you. I promise I've never peeked, but I have been tempted."
"It was a two-part question. When were you tempted to look? And were you tempted as Superman or as Clark?"
"There's no difference in who was tempted."
"To me there is. When?"
He stands up, looking just a little bit agitated. "You want me to cite dates and times?"
I stand up too. "So you've had this temptation more than once?"
He lets out a sigh and looks at the ceiling. "Honeymoon suite of the Lexor Hotel. You were getting undressed in the bedroom. I could hear your clothes hitting the floor. That was the first time."
"When was the last time?"
"It was here."
"This morning?" Now I'm the one blushing. "Was it when I was in the shower this morning?"
"No! Not this morning. It was when we were here on that stakeout. You had gone into the bedroom to change and, well, you stood in front of the door. I could see your silhouette and…"
"Oh my god," I laugh and flush even harder. "I saw you too! And, trust me, if I'd had x-ray vision I would have peeked."
"Really? You could see me?"
"How do you think half the bottle of champagne ended up on the floor?"
He tips his head back and laughs. "I didn't think about it. You were crouched down when I came back out and I could see cleavage…"
"Clark!" I slap his arm. "I…"
"Don't go pretending you're on a higher moral ground here, Lois. You just admitted you would have looked."
"How is it different?" I know he's right, there's no difference. I'm going to lose this argument unless I can divert him. Hell, cleavage worked before. I drop the blanket and glance down. This shirt isn't at all low-cut but it is slightly damp.
Clark isn't even fazed. "Don't go thinking that feminine wiles will win this one."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh, I think you do." He gives his best stern Superman look. "You're not still trying to test my resolve, are you?"
"What if I am?" I say coquettishly, stepping closer to him.
"Then you're playing with fire, Lois."
"Don't you ever play with fire, Clark?"
"You forget — I don't get burned. Invulnerable, you know?"
"Can I ask you another personal question?"
"Okay." He looks very smug.
"So… if you can't feel pain — how can you feel pleasure?"
His expression goes from smug to distracted. "It's not that I don't feel pain, there's pressure, a sensation — it just doesn't hurt."
"What about pleasure?" I draw my finger lightly down his arm.
"I can feel that." It's a husky whisper.
"Oh?" I raise an inquisitive eyebrow. "This is off the record, of course, but I do have a few follow-up questions."
He clears his throat softly. "Ask me."
"How do you know that what you're feeling is pleasure? I'm assuming that your nerve endings register all sensations the same. Does it depend on the context?"
"Lois, can you tell the difference between pain and pleasure?"
"Yes, but we're not talking about me." I trace a 'S' on his chest.
"How do you know the difference? To some people, like masochists, there's no difference. It's in how you perceive it."
"So you just perceive that it's pleasure, but you don't really know?"
"I can tell the difference. It's not like I've never felt pain. When there's Kryptonite around I feel pain. When it's taken away my powers I've even been physically hurt. I can definitely tell the difference."
"So would you need to be exposed to Kryptonite to feel genuine pleasure?"
"You're not hiding Kryptonite somewhere in this room to test that theory, are you?"
"No, but you have to admit it's a possibility."
"That you're hiding Kryptonite?"
"No!" I smack his chest playfully, admiring his effort to sidetrack me. "That you could feel genuine pleasure."
"Are you looking for empirical evidence or would you be willing to take my word for it?"
"I'm going to need some evidence."
He blinks and gives me a slow, meaningful smile. I know if I look away he'll win this round.
"What kind of evidence, exactly?" There's a wicked glint in his eyes. "Do you really want me to show you?"
Oh my god, how did we get here? I can't believe that my voice still manages to be sultry when I say, "I think you're going to have to show me."
He steps closer, his hands coming to my waist to pull me against him.
"Last chance." I caution him with more than a little bravado. I look into his eyes, trying to act like I'm even remotely in charge here. "Tell me to stop, Clark, and I'll terminate this interview."
He chuckles and I feel the vibrations resonate where his chest is pressed against mine. "And if I don't tell you to stop?"
"Then I'll probably still respect you in the morning."
"Hmmm," Clark hums and it tickles my cheek where it's pressed against his chest. "I should tell you something."
"If it's about Superman…" I have to pause for a yawn. "Then I already know about that."
"It's kind of about that…" He looks away suddenly, towards the open bedroom door.
"What is it?"
"It's Perry!" He rolls out of the bed and dresses in a blur. I'm still lying there, feeling lethargic, before I realize what he's saying. I scramble off the bed, in search of my underwear as he shuts the bedroom door behind him. I pull my clothes on quickly and head out to join Clark and Perry.
"… She ended up in the West River so she's probably still getting dressed." Clark is saying as I come into the front room.
Perry looks at me, than back at Clark and the grin that he was already wearing grows wider. "Are you okay, Lois?"
"Fine," I say. I get the distinct impression that Perry is just messing with us. And why wouldn't he? Clark looks as flustered as I feel. We're both barefoot, both flushed, and we both look guilty as hell. Clark has finger-combed his hair but I'm positive mine looks like I was just f… fished out of the river.
Perry holds out some papers and Clark takes them. "We dug up some more information on Dermot Delaney and — I don't know whether you still want this — but there's also the information that Jimmy did on the Schafer Building."
"Chief, have you heard anything about Marco Canfora's death?" Clark passes the sheets to me and I leaf through them. Delaney's autopsy report is on top. Below that is a listing of the Schafer Building's owners and occupants over the years.
"I heard he was tortured before his house burned down. Which reminds me; Inspector Henderson came by and asked that you two give him a call." Perry pauses, his eyes twinkling. "If you're not too busy, of course."
Clark and I both look away. Perry chuckles and stands up. "If there's anything else you two need, well, I guess you'll let me know." He gives us a wink and says, "I'll just show myself out."
After the door shuts Clark lets out a sigh. "I don't suppose you know what the Planet's policy on fraternization is, do you?"
"Perry doesn't seem too upset," I say. "So I don't think we have much to be worried about."
Clark doesn't look very convinced.
"You've never really broken the rules before, have you?" I ask.
"Not if I can help it."
"Live a little, Clark. It's fun to be bad."
His eyes go a little darker. "So was that fun?" He gestures to the bedroom door. "Or bad?"
"Are you fishing for compliments now? Because I'm not about to rate you."
"You don't have to. I already know how I did."
I open my mouth but no words come out. I pick up the closest pillow off the couch and throw it at him. He ducks and it knocks the lamp off the end table. He catches it before it hits the floor and puts it back.
"Tell you what," he says as he dodges the next pillow I launch at him. "You call Henderson while I go get us something to eat. I have a feeling I'm going to need my strength for round two."
He bends to pick up his shoes, missing another pillow in the process, and heads for the door.
"You're laboring under the delusion that there will be a round two!" I finally manage to find my voice as he opens the door.
He looks back over his shoulder. "You're saying there won't be?"
"I wouldn't bet on it!" I pick up the last pillow on the couch and take aim.
"Oh, I would." He winks at me and closes the door just before the pillow gets there.
I shouldn't be thrown by Clark's innuendoes. I should have known to expect this since he teased me about liking it on top within minutes of our first meeting. He intrigues me and maddens me and… there's no one else I ever felt this comfortable or this safe with. No one else who ever pushed me over the edge and caught me at the same time.
Of course there's going to be a round two.
But first, I need to call Henderson.
The line rings twice and then I ask the secretary if I can speak with Inspector Henderson. "Who may I say is calling?"
"Um, I was calling to confirm his dental appointment…"
Muzak comes over the line, 'Some Enchanted Evening'. "… You may see a stranger…" I'm humming to myself when Henderson picks up.
"Yes, you left a message with Perry?"
"How come I have to hear from Perry White that your apartments were tossed?"
"Oh. Sorry. Whoever it was took all our notes and both our laptops."
"Sucks to be you. That's not why I called. We need to meet tomorrow. I want to bring Detective Skousen in on this. He's our expert on Delaney and he'll want to hear every little detail of your mysterious meeting."
"How about tomorrow afternoon? Say, one o'clock? We'll meet you behind the Schafer Building. Oh, hold on…" Henderson covers the mouthpiece and then comes back. "Lois?"
"Don't go anywhere until then. Skousen says if this has anything to do with Intergang or Delaney than you're much safer where they can't find you. You got it?"
I mentally cross my fingers. "Sure. We won't go anywhere."
I hang up the phone and pick up Delaney's autopsy report. Cause of death: gunshot wound to the head. The bullet entered though his left eye and exited through the back of his skull, leaving a behind an exit wound that was a near perfect circle. Only a round fired at extremely close range could do that. Without a bullet for ballistics the pathologist's guess was a 9 mm or equivalent. The body had been in the water for approximately three days before it was found and decomposition was extreme.
Feeling squeamish I put the report aside. I take up the pen and notepad on the table and write Delaney's name. I put down an equals sign and "E" with a question mark. Am I right? Is Delaney 'E'? If so, then whose body was found in the river? If Delaney is dead then who is E and what is his tie to Delaney? Is there even a tie between them? Maybe E was trying to throw Henderson off by using a bomb like Delaney's?
Okay, that's going nowhere. I cross out Delaney's name and look at "E?" on the notepad. Go back, I tell myself. Go back over everything E said. I write it down on the pad.
Schafer Bldg to burn down Someone in mayor's office hiding something/someone in the building Not to start scandal, this is personal Four days until demolition
No, that's not right. There's only three days left now. Tomorrow there will only be two days. Is someone really going to burn down the building or was that just E's way of hooking us in?
It had to be a lie — Clark checked the building and there was nothing suspicious in it. It was a wild goose chase. A fairy tale that E told us to keep us complacent while he was waiting to blow us up. I hate to let go of my Delaney theory but Clark might be right. E couldn't be anywhere near that warehouse when it exploded.
So who is E? And why does he want us dead? Is he with Intergang?
I close my eyes and try to remember his voice. Was it familiar? Maybe. His laugh definitely was. I've heard that laugh before — but where?
I open my eyes and I'm staring at the words "this is personal."
With a rush I realize that's the only honest thing E said to us. It is personal. Whatever his reasons for chaining us up to die, they were personal. I search my memory harder but I still don't recognize where I know his laugh from. Obviously we've done a story about him or he wouldn't have taken all our notes and our computers from both home and work.
Clark comes back, holding a pizza box in front of him like a peace offering. "You haven't had a chance to reload, have you?" he asks.
"Clark, did E's voice sound at all familiar to you?"
He sets the box down on the coffee table as he thinks about it. "No, not really."
"It did to me. And he said it was personal. Remember? I asked if he was trying to start a political scandal and he said 'this is personal.' I think he meant us and not the mayor."
"I take it you don't remember where you know him from?"
"No," I sigh. "I don't. Oh, and we're supposed to meet Henderson at one tomorrow behind the Schafer Building. He's bringing along their expert on Delaney."
"Okay." Clark opens the pizza box.
"Clark? You checked that whole building, right?"
"Yes." He looks much more interested in the strings of cheese stretching out between the slice he's holding and the pizza.
"All of it?"
"Yes, Lois. Why?" He looks a little annoyed that I'm pressing him on this.
"Because I can't help thinking that you might have missed something."
"Like who," I correct him.
"Lois, you went in the building. Did you see anything? Or anyone?"
"No." I slump back against the couch and watch him eat. "I didn't see a damn thing. But someone had been there before us. There was garbage in a back room and footprints all over the place. Don't they have to clear everything out of a building before they demolish it?"
"Yep." Clark nudges my knee with his. "Come on, get something to eat."
"So maybe we need to find where everything, all the office furniture and files, were taken? Maybe there's a body in a filing cabinet or something."
"Here." Clark hands me a slice of pizza. "Take a bite."
I take the slice from him and realize just how hungry I am. It's been a long time since the pain au chocolate this morning. And a lot has happened since then.
While we eat I look at the list of the Schafer Building's owners. It was built in 1872 as the headquarters for the Schafer Shipping Company. In 1949 it was sold to Geoffrey and Edna Healey. They used it as an art gallery until 1964. It sat empty for several years until the Healey's sold it to W.H. Bailey in 1977. He had purchased most of the block with the intention of converting the buildings into lofts. He went bankrupt and the property passed to MetroBank as part of the settlement. In 1989 MetroBank sold the building to CanDel Industries. Nothing is written about what it was used for. The next notation says only that the city had purchased the building in 1994 from Marco Canfora…
"Clark!" I almost choke on my last bite of pizza. I hold up the list Jimmy made, pointing to the last line. "Marco Canfora owned the Schafer Building until last year!"
Clark's eyes dart back and forth, reading the list far faster than I ever could. Then he reaches for the phone and dials.
"Hi. Facts desk, please."
I can see where his thoughts are headed and I nod my approval.
"Hi, Rosie. I need something checked. Yeah, you ready? Okay, I need a list of the partners for CanDel Industries." He spells the name out for Rosie and then tips the receiver away from his mouth while he waits. "You want to make a guess as to who the 'Del' in CanDel is?"
My eyes widen. "Dermot Delaney!"
"I'm here," Clark says into the phone. "Uh huh. Okay. Thanks, Rosie. Bye."
He hangs up the phone. "Marco Canfora and Dermot Delaney started CanDel Industries in 1988."
"Do you think E is the one who tortured and killed Delaney?" I ask.
"I'd say it's highly probable. Let's run it past Henderson tomorrow and see what he thinks." He gives me a thoughtful look. "Lois? Is it possible that Lou is E?"
I hadn't thought about that. After a few seconds I shake my head. "The voice is wrong. And his build. I could see E's silhouette when he left the warehouse. He was tall. Lou… not so much."
"But Lou knows who E is. How else would he have known you'd be at the pier this afternoon?"
I nod in agreement. "Maybe Superman should pay Lou a visit."
Clark thinks about it and then shakes his head. "Waste of time. He's not going to tell me, Superman or anyone else. Look at what happened to Marco. Would you want to end up the same way? My guess is that Lou decided to take a sudden vacation after he called E."
I let out a long sigh and lean back against the couch cushions, putting my feet up on the coffee table. "Now what?"
Clark leans back too, uttering a matching sigh. "I don't know. We can run all this past Henderson tomorrow. And we can check on CanDel Industries, see if there's anything about them that looks promising." He lets out a dramatic yawn and stretches. His arm comes to rest on top of the couch behind me.
I roll my eyes. "That's real smooth, Clark. I suppose that works in Kansas."
"There's a difference between just being friendly and putting the moves on you."
"I know that, but I'm not sure that you do."
He turns his head and smiles at me. "You're still mad because I teased you earlier."
"I'm not mad! I was annoyed, but that's not the same thing."
"Hmmm." He gives me a slow smile that erases any thoughts of annoyance. "Would you believe me if I said you're cute when you're angry?"
I glance over at him and wonder if he's just teasing me again. "Maybe you should get out more."
An odd expression crosses his face, something almost like guilt mixed with amusement. "I, uh, I still ought to tell you something."
"What? Don't tell me you're Batman, too."
"No, Lois…" He grins and shakes his head. "Batman?"
"You do tend to wear a lot of black."
"No, it's…" He looks away, blushing. "I was going to tell you this and then Perry showed up."
"Is this another one of those things that there was no good way to tell me?"
"I don't… maybe. I should have told you before we…" His head tips in the direction of the bedroom.
"You have an STD?" Oh my god, this is just my luck.
"No!" He lets out a nervous laugh. "I, I've, I'd never actually gone that far before."
I stare at him, uncertain if I'm hearing this right. "You what?"
He shakes his head.
"You were my first."
"Huh." It's all I can say. Once again, he's left me speechless. How many more of these little bombshells does he have left to shock me with?
"It's not that I haven't come close before, I have. Really close! I just never… trusted anyone enough to…" He tilts my chin up so that our eyes meet. "I never trusted anyone enough to let them push me over that edge."
"Clark…" What do I say to him? My eyes have gone blurry with tears as the full impact of what he just said hits me.
He takes my hands in his. "I love you, Lois. I have since about three seconds after I first met you. It was like I knew, even then, that you were the one I was going to be able to share myself with." He raises my hands and kisses them. "You were worth the wait."
"Clark, I…" He brushes my tears away with the back of his fingers. "I wish I had waited for you."
"No, it's okay…"
"Let me finish." I clear my throat, trying to think how to explain this to him. "I know I didn't wait for you, Clark, but I can promise you that it was… different with you. I always felt like I had lost something afterwards, except tonight, with you. It was like I got back everything I lost before." Fresh tears come to my eyes. "I know that doesn't make any sense…"
"No, Lois, it does. I promise." He leans forward and kisses me softly. Relief floods through me. Then his eyes close and a pained expression crosses his face. Alarm floods through me, he looks so regretful.
"Lois, I'm so sorry. I have to go."
He's leaving? The old, familiar pang of rejection begins. But I promised him that I wouldn't take it personally. I take a deep breath and say, "Of course you do." I try to hide my disappointment but I don't think I'm doing a very good job of it.
"I'll be back as soon as I can." He gives me a quick kiss and an apologetic look before he stands up and spins into the Suit.
"Clark?" I say as he walks to the door.
"Yes?" He turns back to me.
"Hurry back." I give him what I hope is an enticing smile.
He blushes. "I'll see you later."
I look at all the papers scattered on the coffee table. Is the answer in there? Have we missed something? What is that smell?
With horror I realize that the smell is me. More specifically, my shirt smells like the West River. Okay, first things first. I'll take a shower. I can think while I shower. I am one of the world's best multi-taskers. When I want to be.
I'm rinsing the conditioner from my hair before I finally stop thinking about Clark and turn my mind back to E and Delaney. And Marco! What about the last time we saw Marco? Did he say anything significant? I close my eyes and concentrate.
Where did we see him? We were leaving the restaurant. Clark had turned his head to tease me and walked right into Marco and another customer. Clark said he was sorry. The customer looked irritated and excused himself. Marco had laughed and said… something about my being so lovely he could see why Mr. Kent was distracted. Then he asked us if we enjoyed our meal and we gave him our compliments. Marco had told us to return soon, that he'd prepare us something extra special…
And that was it. Marco didn't give us any significant looks, unless a knowing wink counts. He certainly didn't act like a man who was going home to be tortured and killed.
What about the other guy — the customer? Then again, he didn't stick around and talk to us anyway. No, it's Marco that's the key to all this. What did Marco know? What does E think we know? Could E have been stalking Marco and saw him talking to us? Did he think Marco had told us something? Or is the fact that we saw him just hours before he died coincidental?
It's been a long day and my mind is tired of going in circles. I don't think I can keep my eyes open long enough for Clark to come back. I decide to turn in. It seems like too much effort to go dig my pajamas out my gym bag. I filch Clark's blue oxford shirt from the back of the bathroom door.
I'm about to get into bed when he comes back. His eyes trace over where the hem of his shirt reveals my bare legs and he smiles.
I smile back at him, suddenly I don't feel as tired. "Can I ask you a question?"
"Sure," he says.
"When were you, or were you ever, planning to tell me you were Superman? Did E force your hand or was that something you were going to do anyway?"
"I was already going to tell you." He sits down on the bed, patting the mattress next to him in invitation. "I only wanted to be certain that you loved me as Clark first. Although there were moments when, as Superman, I wanted to tell you just to see the expression on your face."
I sit down next to him. "I was such a jerk to you. I would have deserved it." I manage to say the words like an adult but on the inside I'm mortified.
"Water under the bridge, Lois. Okay?"
"Okay." I don't deserve him. But, starting right now, I'll make sure that he never regrets being stuck with me. And he is stuck with me. Telling me his secret was as good as a wedding vow. It binds us together forever. I can understand why he put off telling me for so long.
"Can I ask you a question before we ban all past recriminations?" he asks softly.
I don't like the sound of that but I nod anyway.
"Why did you choose me over Scardino?"
"Dan?" I ask, thrown by this question.
"Yes. Unless you know more than one Scardino."
I don't say anything right away and he says, "You don't have to answer. I just wondered…"
"There are lots of reasons, Clark. I'd been seeing Dr. Friskin, I told you that. Anyway, I was working with her, trying to sort out my feelings for what I thought were the three men in my life. You, Scardino and, as it turns out, you again."
Clark looks a little disconcerted but he smiles encouragingly.
"So I started making lists. I realized that Superman was just a fantasy. Well, you know, I told you all this after the trial. Not that I knew I was telling *you* but…"
"Moving on," Clark prompts.
"And Dan, who really was nicer than you give him credit for, Dan was… well, really it's more of what he wasn't."
"What wasn't he?"
"You," I tell him. "He wasn't you, Clark. In the final summation he didn't understand me, wasn't willing to indulge me and never left me weak in the knees. Even at the risk of your running off for no reason I could discern I still would rather hang out with you at the end of the day. I've never felt that way about anyone on a long-term basis."
"A long-term basis?" He raises an eyebrow and shakes his head. "What would you define as a long-term basis?"
"In your case?" I have to swallow past the sudden lump in my throat. "The rest of my life."
Clark's eyes go soft. "It's a deal then. The rest of my life."
I wake up with a start and stare into the gloomy early morning light, my heart beating frantically. I'm nestled against Clark. He's still asleep, if his deep and even breathing is any indication.
What was it that woke me?
I listen but there's no sound beyond Clark's slumbering respirations. Actually he has what could fondly be called a soft snore. It's no window-rattler, in fact, it's kind of cute. Not the kind of cute that's only cute because you're hopelessly in love with someone. No, it's just cute.
Is that what woke me — an unfamiliar bed and a cute little snore? I consider that for a moment and decide that wasn't it. But there's a niggle at the back of my mind — and I've learned those ought not to be ignored.
It's out there lying on the coffee table, I just know it. The clue, the key, the answer to all our questions about E. I slip from the bed and head for the couch. I shuffle through all the papers in front of me and start to make piles on the table. All the articles about Delaney go in one pile. The story about Marco's death starts another pile. I look at the story about the warehouse fire and put it in a third pile for E. The information about the Schafer Building is a fourth pile.
What's the connection? Marco and Delaney started CanDel Industries together. What kind of business was it? Did E work for them? Before we meet with Henderson we need to do some research on CanDel Industries.
I make a note on the pad: 'CanDel Industries — employees?'
What about Delaney's bomb? Did he have an assistant, someone who knew how he worked? What was his "signature" anyway?
I write down: "Ask Henderson/Skousen — Delaney's signature on bomb"
I look through the notes that Clark made on Delaney. After our second story ran, the one that named Delaney as the embezzler, he disappeared. The body wasn't found until two months later. But according to the autopsy report he'd only been dead for three days. So where was he for two months?
My eyes widen — the Schafer Building! What if Delaney was the squatter in that dirty back room? On second thought, that can't be right. If you had just made off with two million dollars, why would you stay there? Maybe Delaney didn't have the money? So who took the money? Marco? Larry from the pawn shop? Larry did leave town at that same time and hasn't been seen since.
I put that on the list: "Where's Larry? — ask Bobby"
The floor squeaks behind me. "Good morning, Clark."
"Good morning." Clark comes over and sits next to me on the couch. "Are you making any progress?"
I hand him the notepad. "These are the things we need to follow-up on today."
Clark looks at the list and nods.
"When I went in the Schafer Building without you? There was a room in the back, right by where we came in. Someone had been camping out in there. What if it was Delaney?"
"That would explain where he was for the two months he was missing." Clark sets the notepad down and picks up the autopsy report. "Unless you still think he's alive and in hiding somewhere."
I sigh, hating to admit defeat.
"You want me to tell you where you're taking me for dinner? Just so you can start saving up for it?" Clark teases.
I ignore him, carefully leveling the edges on the piles in front. "What if Larry is E?" I ask. "After all, he disappeared the same time the money did."
"Maybe," Clark says. "But what about Marco? Lou said someone else had to be helping Delaney launder the money. What if Marco was funneling the money through the restaurant?"
"But why wait all these months to kill Marco? Surely Larry knew that they were partners?" I frown, knowing my theory is full of holes.
"Maybe E assumed that Larry had the money. Maybe it took him this long to catch up to Larry and discover that he didn't have it?"
"So who does? And why would E try to kill us? It's not like we're hiding two million dollars." I shake my head. It makes no sense. I glance at my watch. "We ought to get down to the City Building and look into CanDel Industries before we meet up with Henderson."
"Lois, it's Sunday. The City Building is closed."
"We could go to the Planet."
"And what if E is watching for us?"
"He won't be watching the roof. Superman can sneak us in, can't he?"
Clark combs his hair back with his fingers and smiles. "Yeah, I guess he could."
"I knew you'd see it my way. Do you want the shower first?"
"I know a way we could conserve water." His knee bumps mine softly.
"That's what I've always liked about you, Clark. You're very concerned about the environment."
"There's this theory about the rainforest and increased male potency, would you like to hear it?"
"You can explain that to me in the shower?"
"I can do more than that."
"Nah," I stand up. "We'll never get any work done that way."
"Wanna bet?" he asks, pulling me back down for a kiss.
Even though I already knew everything was missing from my desk, it still gives me a hollow feeling inside when I see it looking so empty. I trail my fingers over the surface as I walk past. Clark is already sitting at Sanders' desk and booting up the computer. As he waits for the machine to warm up he sits back in the chair and gives me a lopsided smile. The news room is nearly empty, only Jimmy is here with us, although he's in the conference room going through stacks of files.
"Lois, can I ask you a personal question?"
I glance over at Jimmy. "I'm not sure this is the right time."
"No," he laughs. "It's not *that* kind of question."
"What kind of question is it?"
Still smiling, he shakes his head. "Never mind."
"No, Clark, ask me. It's okay."
Now I'm feeling paranoid but he's turned back to the computer and is typing in his user name and password. I come to stand behind him and watch as he types "CanDel Industries" into the Planet's search engine. As the computer searches I pull a chair over.
"So, really, what was the question?"
"It was nothing."
"Then ask me."
"Clark! If you don't ask then I'm left to wonder what it was. At least give me a direction to wonder in."
The computer beeps and text appears on the screen. Clark leans closer and points at the screen. "See this? CanDel owned several properties including Marco's Ristorante, the Schafer Building and the warehouse on Pier 3 that's now a crater. Why don't you get on Murphy's machine and see what you can dig up on CanDel's employees?"
Obviously he's not going to tell me what the question was. My mind goes in circles as I sit down at Murphy's desk. There aren't many personal things about me that Clark doesn't know… now.
After I've logged in I start my own search on CanDel's employees. Over 200 names are returned by the search engine. It would take weeks to interview all of them. I scroll through the list, but only Marco's name jumps out at me. Even though the listing goes back to 1989 Delaney isn't on it. I click on 'print' and stand up to go retrieve it.
"Need anything while I'm up?" I ask.
Clark shakes his head, his hands a blur on the keyboard. I glance over but Jimmy isn't looking in our direction.
"Do you do that a lot?"
"What?" he asks, his fingers still flying over the keyboard.
"Use your superpowers when we're not looking."
He stops, turning in his chair to look at me. "Wouldn't you, if you could?"
I have to smile. "Yeah, probably." I touch his shoulder as I go to walk past him and then stop. "Find anything?"
"Not really," he says. "CanDel applied for an exports license in 1992, listing 'furniture' as the goods that they'd be exporting. The license was granted but there are no shipping manifests on file that showed anything had ever been exported. In fact, it isn't clear that any furniture has ever been built by CanDel."
"Another dead end," I mutter and turn to go pick up the employees list.
Jimmy knocks on the glass as I'm picking up the printouts. I wave at him and he sticks his head out the door. "Did you get the stuff that I sent over with Perry last night?"
"So you called that guy back?"
"There was a message for you, I wrote it on the back of the Schafer building notes. Some guy named Larry…"
"Pawn shop Larry?"
"I don't think so. He said it was about Marco Canfora's death."
"Do you still have his number?"
"No, it's on the back of the list."
I rush over to Clark. "We need to go back to the condo. Larry tried to call us yesterday. Jimmy wrote the number on the back of the stuff he sent over with Perry."
"Pawn shop Larry?"
"It must be. He said it was about Marco."
"Let's go," Clark says as he gets up.
"Clark?" I ask as he lifts us off the top of the Planet building. "I meant to ask you this last night. What do you remember about when we last saw Marco?"
"I bumped into him when we left the restaurant…"
"Right, but did he say anything that sticks out in your mind?"
"He knew that I only ran into him because I was distracted by you."
"He said we should come back and he'd have something special for us."
"Right. He was going to prepare something special…"
"No, he said 'have something special' and then he winked… Do you think he was hinting he had a story for us?"
"What if E saw or overheard that conversation and thought that he was passing on information? What about the customer Marco was talking to? Did you recognize him?"
Clark shakes his head slowly. "No, I don't think so. He was out of there pretty fast." His body tilts to vertical as he brings us down in the small passageway next to the condo. I head around the corner, knowing he'll catch up with me in a moment. I stop cold — the door is half-open.
He comes up behind me and touches my elbow. "What's wrong?"
"We locked the door when we left, right?"
"Right." He notices the door and lowers his glasses. "No one in there, but…"
I push the door open.
"… I don't think you want to see it."
I take in a sharp breath but I can't think of anything to say. The condo has been utterly ransacked. Winch Kennebrew is going to kill us. Every little scrap of paper we had stacked on the coffee table is gone. The cushions have been pulled off the couch and slashed open. Worst of all, the large aquarium against the wall has been smashed. Water and fish are all over the floor.
"What in the…" I finally manage to sputter. I rush into the bedroom to find our clothes strewn everywhere. The mattress has been pulled off the bed and gutted.
"I was thinking about having that mattress bronzed," Clark says forlornly.
"I guess it's a good thing we didn't take Henderson's advice and stay put this morning." I tell him as he picks up one of the pillows and tosses it back on the destroyed bed. "Why trash the condo? Do you think he was just frustrated because we weren't here?" I kneel down and stuff some of my clothes back into my gym bag.
"Or maybe this was meant as a warning. Maybe he's trying to scare us."
Something shiny catches my eye. It's the key from Bobby's envelope, the one I saved as a souvenir of Clark's confession. At least I still have that left. I sit down on the floor. If E's trying to scare me then he's doing a damn fine job of it. "How did he find us here?"
Clark shrugs. "Maybe he followed Perry?"
I look around the room, still not quite comprehending that this has really happened. Why trash this place? Why destroy everything? Why not just take our notes and be done with it? Why ruin a perfectly good mattress? Why kill the fish?
And then it clicks. That niggling feeling at the back of my mind gels into clarity and I scramble to my feet. "Clark! I know where the money is!"
"Okay," Clark says as he sets us down behind the Schafer Building. "We're here. Now will you tell me?"
"You didn't check the mattress in the back room, did you?" I ask him as I climb the stairs. I can hear him spinning back into his street clothes behind me. The door is ajar and it squeals a little as I push it open.
Clark follows me into the building. "You think the money is in the mattress?"
"What's the one connection between all these burglaries? The mattress has been destroyed! He's looking in all the mattresses. Maybe Marco only knew that Delaney had hidden the money in a mattress, but didn't know which mattress. So E shows up, tortures Marco, and he tells him it's in a mattress. E could have been in the restaurant or following Marco and saw him talking to us and thought we were in on it. Or maybe he thought that Marco was ratting E out. Maybe that was the 'something special' Marco had for us."
I turn in the doorway of the squatter's room. Instead of looking impressed with my deductive thinking Clark has his head tilted up and he's sniffing the air. "Do you smell fresh paint?" he asks.
He shakes his head. "Never mind. You were saying?"
I still don't want to go into that filthy, smelly room. "The mattress, Clark. Just look in the mattress for me."
He starts to lower his glasses and then pushes them back saying, "We're not alone…"
A man comes in through the open door to our left. He's about the same height as Clark but much more stocky. He has a short blond crew cut and piercing blue eyes. He's wearing a rumpled dark sports coat and jeans. He stops when he sees us and smiles. "Lane and Kent? Looks like you're early, too."
"Early?" Clark asks.
"Yes, aren't we supposed to meet at one o'clock?"
"Oh, you must be Detective Skousen." Clark holds his hand out and Skousen shakes it. An odd expression crosses Clark's face.
Skousen pushes past Clark to come shake my hand. "So what's going on? How did you two get in here? I thought this place was supposed to be boarded up."
"The door was open," I tell him. Clark blinks and shakes his head.
"Have we met before?" Skousen asks, looking at me. "You look familiar to me."
"I'm sorry," I tell him. "If we have, I don't remember…"
He waves his hand in dismissal. "Don't worry about it. So you didn't say — what are you two doing inside the building?"
"Lois thinks she knows where Delaney's missing money is." What the hell is wrong with Clark? He's leaning his shoulder against the wall like he's tired and his words sounds almost slurred.
"Really?" Skousen's face splits in a grin and then he laughs. "Fantastic! Where is it?"
Suddenly I realize that I have met him before, at a press conference where he gave that same nasty cackle when he was asked a question about police brutality. And at a warehouse only two days ago.
I take a step back, trying to nudge Clark into the direction of the exit. "It was just a theory. I'm probably wrong." I press back harder against Clark but he hasn't moved. I'm looking up at Clark to figure out what's going on with him when I'm yanked back hard against Skousen. His arm comes across my chest and something solid is pushed beneath my chin. I yelp, more out of surprise than pain.
Clark's eyes go wide in alarm and he holds up his hands. "What's going on, Skousen?"
"You tell me," Skousen says. "Where's the money?"
"I don't know," I choke out. "I just thought… maybe…"
"Maybe what?" I hear the click of the gun's safety. "Where is it?"
Clark's eyes meet mine. I shake my head slightly to tell him it's not worth the risk. Don't do anything that would give you away to Skousen.
Clark frowns and his chin dips in the faintest of nods to me.
"It's in the mattress," I squeak. Skousen's arm is so tight around me that it's hard to breath.
"Which mattress?" The gun presses harder under my jaw. "I've checked all the mattresses!"
"In there," I gasp out, flailing my arm in the direction of the back room. "Did you check that one?"
Skousen pulls me into the room with him. "You." He points the gun at Clark. "Go on. Go check." He waves the gun in the direction of the mattress before pointing it back at me.
Clark comes into the room and kneels next to the mattress. He works his fingers into a rip in the corner of the mattress and pulls. The ticking tears back to reveal money. Stacks and stacks and stacks of it. The entire mattress is made of money. All three of us gasp in awe.
Skousen recovers first. "Stand up," he barks at Clark. "Back into the hall. You try anything and Lane here gets it."
We make an unlikely parade as Skousen directs Clark down the hall and through the lobby. There's a door on the opposite side of the grand stairway and he has Clark go first. We tromp down the stairs into the basement. Clark was right earlier. It does smell like fresh paint down here.
"Go in that room," Skousen says indicating the only open door halfway down the hall. Clark starts forward and then stumbles, catching himself against the wall.
"Clark?" A thread of fear winds around my stomach. Is there Kryptonite in the building?
"Keep moving. I've gone to a lot of trouble for you two. A little remodeling, you might say."
"He's been sick," I tell Skousen, my mind racing. "He has food poisoning."
"Not to worry, in a little while it won't matter anymore."
The further we move down the hall, the stronger the paint smell becomes.
"Did you paint in here?" I ask.
"Like I said, I did some remodeling for you. You wouldn't believe some of the stuff we have in the evidence room from Luthor's bunkers. He actually made paint with Kryptonite in it. So if Superman shows up to save you two this time, he'll be sorry."
Clark leans against the wall again, his body wracked with coughing. Skousen gives him a vicious kick that sends him staggering through the open doorway. Skousen pulls me into the room with him. The paint fumes are overwhelming in here. There's only one tiny window, high on the wall, and the room is glowing an eerie phosphorescent green. Kryptonite green.
Skousen slaps a handcuff onto my right wrist and yanks me forward. There's a metal rail running the length of the Kryptonite wall. He passes the free end behind the rail and turns to Clark. "Over here, Kent."
Clark stumbles closer, his face set in concentration. I can see how hard he's trying to appear fine and it scares me even more than the gun. Skousen grows impatient and grabs Clark's arm to pull him forward. As soon as he's close enough he cuffs him to me. Clark slumps against me with a groan, pinning me between him and the wall. I put out my free hand, trying to keep him on his feet.
"Henderson will find us!" I tell Skousen as he starts to walk away.
"No, he won't. I'll tell him we all met up early. I can give him all the pertinent details of your meeting Delaney at the warehouse. He'll think you two left to follow a new lead."
"Are you going to blow us up again?"
"No. I told you someone would burn down the Schafer Building. Let's just make good on that." He raises the gun in salute. "Thanks for all your help."
He slams the door and I hear a bolt slide into its lock. Clark crumples to his knees, pulling me down with him where our hands are bound. His free hand fumbles with the handcuff but it doesn't break. He winces and leans as far away from the wall as the cuffs will allow. His leaning pinches my hand against the rail but I'm too frightened for him to protest.
"Clark?" He doesn't respond and it triggers a wave of panic in me. "Clark? Come on, you have to talk to me. Please!" I tilt his head up to look at me. His skin feels clammy.
He squints at me and gasps, "Lois, I'm so sorry." His face is so pale.
"How is this your fault?"
"I should have… should have done something…"
"No! It wasn't worth the risk. It doesn't matter. It's okay. I'll get you out of here."
He gives me a small smile. "Okay."
I don't know how I'm going to get him out of here. But I am. I have to. He's saved me so many times — I owe him. And it will put a severe damper on both our futures if I don't get us out of here. But how? I pull at the handcuff on my wrist. Again, it's on too tight to slip out of it. Clark slouches against me as he tries to keep away from the wall.
I guess it's a good thing he told me he was Superman or this would have been a dead giveaway. I can't believe Skousen accepted that lame food poisoning excuse. Then again, I know from experience that if you're not looking for Superman, you won't see him.
Duh! My souvenir of Clark's confession! It's in my right pocket but I can't reach it. My right hand is in the air and I can't let go of Clark with the left or he'll be touching the wall.
"Clark, you have to help me here. Can you reach in my pocket and get the key?"
"The key?" His voice is hoarse.
"I saved the handcuff key from Bobby. It's in my pocket. Can you reach in there and get it?"
His head flops in a nod against my neck. His fingers slide into my pocket and then he softly says, "Got it."
I shift to lean more fully against the wall, letting his weight fall against me while I take the key from him. I reach up to unlock him, my hand shaking with fear. What if it doesn't work?
It does — Clark's wrist falls free. I don't bother with my own hand, in too much of a hurry to move him away from the wall. He tries to stand up, but can't. I drag and he crawls and between us we manage to move him to the far side of the room. It doesn't seem to make much of a difference. He's still lying on the floor, writhing with pain.
How much time do we have? I glance at my watch. It's just past one o'clock now. Chances are Henderson has come and gone. Skousen still has to move the money. The mattress would be too heavy to drag by himself, so he'll have to do it in increments. If he parks right outside the door he could move all the cash into a vehicle in a half hour, maybe less. I'm certain he won't start the fire until the money's out of the building.
I throw myself against the door a couple of times, if only to establish in my own mind that it's too solid to break down. I check, but the door's hinges are on the other side. I look around the room. There's not much in here. Just us and the paint can and brush.
Clark is gasping for breath. I kneel next to him, loosening his tie and the top button of his shirt. I stroke his hair back while I try frantically to think of something, anything, to get him out of here. I look up at the window. Could we get out that way? The window's pretty small. I doubt Clark could, but I might be able to. I give him a quick kiss and stand up.
I press down on the metal rail along the wall. It seems sturdy enough. It juts out from the wall about five inches at the height of my waist. I might be able to balance on it without falling off. I put my right knee on the rail and then raise my left foot, leaning forward and bracing myself against the wall as I carefully stand up. I'm high enough that I'm looking directly out the window. All I can see is a ground level view of building next door, only a few feet away. I try to push the window open but it's been welded shut.
I hop back down and go over to the paint can. Would it be solid enough to break the window? There's only one way to find out. I take the can to the corner furthest from Clark and pour out the remaining paint. It makes a viscous pool of green that spreads out slowly on the floor. It seeps around my shoes, leaving them slippery enough that I won't be able to wear them on the rail without killing myself.
Once the can is emptied I step back, almost slipping in the puddle. I go back over to the window and toe my shoes off. I balance the can on the rail, tipping it to rest against the wall before I climb back up. I carefully reach down, grasp the can and straighten up again.
I start beating on the window with the can but it doesn't seem to be doing anything except splattering me with the residue from inside. Frustrated, I look over my shoulder. Clark is still lying where I left him, his breathing shallow.
"Clark? You still with me?"
"Yessss…" His voice seems weaker than before.
Deeply terrified I go back to pounding the can against the window. My arms are starting to tire when the first crack appears. Encouraged now, I hit the window as hard as I can. It throws me off-balance and I lurch backwards, wind-milling my arms in an attempt to stay on the rail. The paint can clatters to the floor and rolls away as I fall backwards. I almost land on my feet, then sort of totter and land square on my butt.
Adrenaline drives me to my feet again, although I can feel the beginnings of what's going to be a record bruise as I climb back onto the rail. After I stand up and am confident I have my balance I lean forward against the wall, working my jacket off. I wrap it around my hand and beat against the window where I've left a web of cracks. My fist breaks through and I continue knocking the glass out until it looks safe to crawl through.
I look over my shoulder at Clark again. "I'll be right back," I promise him.
He doesn't move. God, please let him still be able to hear me.
I grab the outside frame of the window with either hand and try to pull myself up. I have to scrabble against the wall with my feet for leverage. Luckily the paint is still tacky enough that I'm able to find some purchase on it. I work my shoulders through the window, wincing as a remaining shard of glass slices across my back. I wiggle my way out into the small alley and then look back through the window.
"Clark! I'm out! I'll be back for you in just a minute."
I rise shakily to my feet and look around. Both ends of the passageway are fenced. I orientate myself and head to the left, towards the back of the building. If Skousen is still there I'll have to leave Clark and go for help. If he's not there then I'll just go back inside, open the door and get Clark out of there.
I have to jump to catch the top of the fence and then pedal my feet to work myself high enough to peer over it. Skousen isn't there. I pull myself the rest of the way over, landing in the alley behind the Schafer Building. I tiptoe to the back door. Still no sign of Skousen. I creep just inside the building and look around the door into the back room. All the money is gone. Worse yet, I think I can smell smoke.
I run through the lobby and open the door to the basement. Fire! Flames dance in front of me. Skousen has set the stairs on fire. Self-preservation takes a backseat to the fact that Clark is dying down there. I raise my arm to protect my face while I try to determine just how on fire the stairs are. It looks like maybe it's only the first few stairs that are burning. I take a deep breath and launch myself through the blaze.
I come down hard on the fifth step, lose my balance and bounce down the remaining stairs. I pat myself to check for fire. My sleeve seems to smolder a little but I think I actually made it. My ankle is killing me, but that's nothing compared to how Clark must be feeling.
I limp down the hall to the door. I try to move the bolt but I'm shaking so hard that I'm ineffectual. The fire behind me seems to be growing louder, driving my panic higher. The slide finally pushes back and I pull the door open. Clark is still slumped on the floor.
"Clark?" I check him for a pulse. He's still alive. His eyelids flutter and he mumbles my name. I stand up and pull him towards the door. Then I stop. Half the stairs are now engulfed in flames. I look around despairingly. I barely got me through that window, there's no way I could get him out. Nor could I pull him up those stairs, even if they weren't on fire.
This is bad. I tug him into the hallway, hoping that he'll recover a little if I can just get him away from the Kryptonite. Maybe I can put him in another room while I go get help? The smoke is starting to affect me, I feel lightheaded and dizzy. Luckily, Clark's on the floor so the smoke isn't a factor for him — yet.
I glance at Clark. No sense in telling him to stay, he's not going anywhere. I race along the hallway, checking each room but all the doors are locked. The last door is a bathroom and it swings open. I run back to Clark and grab his blazer, tugging as hard as I can. He slides a couple of inches.
"Come on!" I tell myself through gritted teeth. "Come on!" I walk backwards down the hall, pulling Clark along with me. My wet socks slip on the floor. My ankle is screaming every time I put weight on it. My arms feel like jelly. Finally I make it to the bathroom and lug him past the door.
His face is ashen and streaked with the paint that has flecked off of me. I try to wipe it away but it leaves little trails on his skin.
"Clark, I don't know what else to do! I'm going to have to leave you here." Tears have started running down my face. His lips move and I lean down to catch what he's saying.
"Go… get help." It's barely above a whisper.
I bend down to kiss him, my hands stroking his face and chest as if to memorize him. "I love you, Clark." I have the most awful premonition that I'll never have the chance to tell him so again.
"Love… you… too…" he mumbles, his face creased with pain.
Choking back a sob, I rise but turn in the doorway, taking one last look at him.
"Hang on, Clark. For me. Please. I'll be right back with help."
I swipe away my tears as I limp back down the hall. I can cry later. I can't fall apart now or Clark… I can't fall apart right now. I'm hoping that moving him away from the Kryptonite wall will help. The flames have spread all the way down the stairs as I head back into the green room
It seems to take forever for me to work my way back onto the rail and out the window. The same damn glass shard cuts into my back. I swear I can hear Clark screaming in pain but maybe I'm just projecting. I weave drunkenly down the alley towards the front of the building. My entire body feels like one large bruise.
"Help! Help me!" I call out as I try to climb the wooden fence between me and the street. "Fire! Somebody help!" I'm shaking so hard I can't get over the fence. I'm stuck there, crying and calling for help when a car passing by stops. It's Henderson and he looks just as astonished to see me as I do to see him.
"Call for help," I beg him as he gets out of the car. "Clark's in the basement. The building's on fire. Call for help!"
He gets back in the car and I see him raise the radio mike to his mouth. After a brief exchange he comes over to help me, pulling me over the fence and setting me down gently on the sidewalk. I must make quite the picture. My clothes are torn and bloody. I'm spattered with paint. I have a handcuff hanging from my wrist. I'm not wearing shoes and I'm so filled with fear that I can't stop shivering.
"It was Skousen," I tell him. "He's the one who tried to blow us up at the warehouse. And now he's set the building on fire and Clark's trapped in the basement…" I grab Henderson's arm. "You have to help me get him out of there."
"Don't worry, Lois. I've called the fire department. Besides, I'm sure Superman will show up before they get here."
I want to scream with exasperation but I can't. "Please, Inspector, just help me!" I turn to go back towards the building but Henderson pulls me back. "I can't let you go in there. Just sit tight…"
I hear sirens in the distance. They don't seem to be getting any closer. "We can't wait," I yell. "We just can't! Please, help me!"
Henderson shakes his head and tightens his grip on my wrist. "Don't make me use those handcuffs, Lois. It's too dangerous. You're not even wearing shoes."
As the fire trucks pull up alongside us the front of the building collapses, sending up a huge shower of sparks. Henderson pulls me back into the street with him.
I think again of kissing Clark and how I knew, just knew, it was for the last time. How could I have failed him like this? After all the times he's saved me, to lose him like this is the cruelest twist of fate. My knees wobble and I remember with regret how he made my knees go weak just last night.
I should have kissed him more. And now I'll never have that chance again.
Logically I know it's only been a few minutes since the firemen went into the building. It feels like forever. My heart knows it's simply been too long. They should have returned by now. They can't find him. Or they did find him but there's no reason to hurry back out of the building if he's dead.
I draw in a shuddery breath at the thought. I'm actually beyond tears now, stuck in a morass of sorrow and guilt. This is worse than the time I thought he'd been shot by Clyde. This time I have the knowledge that I might have saved him if I had just been faster. If I had kept him away from the wall better or moved him out of the room sooner. If I'd moved out of that window quicker or gone over the fence more rapidly I could have… saved him.
Henderson is still keeping a tight grip on my arm. He knows damn well I'm a flight risk. And then I see them, coming around from the back of the building. One of the firefighters has Clark slung over his shoulder.
Henderson releases my wrist and I run over, catching up to the firefighter as he lowers Clark onto a stretcher. Clark's covered in soot and Kryptonite. His clothes are soaking wet. His eyes are closed and he looks pale beneath all the black and green streaks on his skin. I touch his hand but there's no reaction. The EMT firmly moves me aside and puts an oxygen mask over Clark's face. He pulls Clark's glasses off and hands them to me. I'm about to protest but I realize that between the mask over his face and the grime covering him, he's not going to be recognized.
"Is he going to be okay?" I ask.
"Sorry lady, I'm not a doctor." Another EMT throws a blanket over Clark and then straps him down on the stretcher.
"Can I ride with him?"
The first EMT looks at me and his eyes widen in surprise at my disheveled appearance. "Yeah, we better get you checked out too."
The short ride to the hospital is the longest of my life. Clark doesn't move the entire time. His oxygen mask is foggy so he must be breathing but he doesn't respond to anything I say. I hold his hand between mine and pray to whomever might be listening that Clark's okay and that I'll get another chance to tell him how much I need him in my life.
Once we reach the hospital they take him into another room but don't allow me to follow. A kind-looking nurse with tired eyes shepherds me into an exam room. "Let's just check you out first, what's your name?"
"Lois, Lois Lane."
"Let's check you out first, Lois, and then we'll go see about your friend. I promise he's in good hands."
The nurse hands me a hospital gown. "Why don't you put this on? Then we'll take a look at you." She leaves the room, pulling the door shut behind her.
Almost numb with grief, I comply. I slip on the gown and look at the pile of ragged clothes I've left on the bed. The shirt I was wearing is shredded as well as spattered with paint and blood. The knees of my pants are both torn. I look at my hands and, for the first time, realize that they're nicked and cut. And covered with Kryptonite paint. Smooth going, Lois, I chide myself. I held his hand all the way here and I'm wondering why he wasn't moving? Talk about killing him with kindness.
I go to the sink in the room and scrub my hands and arms until I'm certain there's no Kryptonite left on them. The soap stings my cuts and I could really do without the handcuffs clanking every time I move. I check my hair in the mirror and see green paint streaks. I tip my head into the sink and use the hand soap to wash my hair. I'm left with a tangled mess but it looks like all the green is gone.
There's a knock on the door and I call out, "Come in." The same nurse has returned and she gives me a smile. "I checked on your friend… Clark, is it?"
"Yes, Clark! Is he okay?"
"He's doing fine. They're probably going to take him off the oxygen if he continues to improve. He's been asking about you."
"Can I just go…"
"Let's get you checked out first."
I sit down on the bed, relieved to hear that Clark is lucid enough to be asking about me. The nurse cleans my cuts, putting Steri-Strips on the deeper ones. My hands, back and knees throb everywhere she applies antiseptic cleanser.
A doctor comes in and checks my ankle. He prods and manipulates it before telling me it's only sprained. He leaves without answering any of my questions about how Clark is doing. I assure the nurse that I don't want my ankle wrapped, it's feeling better already. It's not, but it's going to waste too much time if I have to stay in here.
Before I have a chance to wheedle her into telling me where Clark is, Inspector Henderson opens the door and pokes his head in.
"Lois? Alright if I come in?"
"Have you seen Clark?"
"Come in! Where is he?"
"They're still cleaning him up. Apparently he has an allergy to the paint that's all over him."
I gasp out something that's half-sob, half-laugh. "Yes, he's always been allergic to paint. Something in the fumes, maybe…"
"I just want to run down a few details with you, Lois. Then maybe we can go check on your partner."
I sit down on the bed, shivering. I've been operating on nothing but adrenaline until now and I'm paying the price for it. "Did you find Skousen?"
"No, not yet. I got a call from Skousen just before one o'clock. He told me he'd already met with you two and that you were off to follow up a lead. He said it looked like Delaney really was alive and had assumed Larry Cole's identity. Cole was the guy who worked with him at the pawn shop."
"Larry tried to call us yesterday too."
"Exactly. It was about twenty minutes after I talked with Skousen that I found that message in a pile of other messages on my desk."
"And you wondered why Delaney would call you as Larry if he was trying to hide?"
"You got it. And that started me thinking — why didn't Skousen want me to come down the Schafer Building? He's been moody and evasive for months. The guy's going through a divorce; he's got money problems… So I asked around and found out that he's been obsessed with finding Delaney's millions. And then I started thinking about how Marco Canfora and Delaney were business partners. It seemed awfully coincidental that Marco died the same morning that Delaney came back from the dead to blow up two reporters. Especially since the only proof we had that Delaney created that bomb was Skousen's opinion."
"We were at Marco's restaurant the night before. I think Skousen saw us talking to Marco and thought he'd tipped us off. He must have thought we were about to write a story about the money. That's why he took all our notes and computers. He checked our mattresses just to be thorough."
"So what happened at the building before I got there?"
"We showed up to look in the mattress in the back room where… And it turns out I was right — the money has been there all along. Then Skousen showed up and forced us down to the basement before he set fire to the building."
Henderson lifts the free end of the handcuffs I'm still wearing. "Have you become attached to these or would you like them off?"
"I never want to see them again."
Henderson takes off the cuffs and puts them in his pocket. "Did I tell you what else we found in that back room?"
"What?" I ask, rubbing my wrist. Now I have matching bruises on both wrists.
"The remnants of the mattress caught my eye since the stains looked like blood. I looked through them and found a 9 mm round embedded in the floor. We've sent it to the lab but what do you want to bet that it matches Skousen's gun?"
"So Skousen killed Delaney for the money, never realizing that he was literally right on top of it?"
"You have to love the irony." Henderson smirks. "I'll go see if I can find something else for you to wear and then we'll take you to see Clark."
True to his word he comes back in less than five minutes and hands me a comb, a pair of scrubs and a pair of socks.
I'm still thanking him as he shuts the door. I change quickly, rolling the ankles on the scrub bottoms so that I don't trip myself. I work the comb through my hair, wincing as it pulls through the tangles. I've never looked worse but I don't think Clark is going to care. I open the door and Clark is standing there, dressed in scrubs, with his hand raised to knock on the door.
I take in a surprised gasp and throw my arms around his neck. His arms encircle me and he presses his cheek to my ear. His hair is wet and he still smells like a campfire. "Thank you," he whispers.
I lean back and cradle his face in my hands. "I was so scared," I confess.
"No. You were so brave." He takes my hands in his, grimacing at the cuts and scrapes he sees there. He lifts my right hand and gently kisses my palm. "You are the bravest, most resourceful person I know."
I rest my forehead against his chest, savoring the fact that he's okay, that we came through this and we have each other. He wraps his arms around me again, rocking me slightly and stroking my hair. I slide my arms around his neck again and hug him tightly.
"Alright lovebirds, knock it off." Henderson has come back. "They say they're going to release you both and I figured you might want a ride."
We pull apart. I reach over and pick up his glasses from the pile of my ruined clothes. He gives me a smile as he slips them back on.
"Thanks, Inspector," Clark says. "I think we'll take you up on that one."
Henderson chatters to us all the way to Clark's apartment, filling Clark in on the same things he told me. Clark and I sit in the back seat, our hands clasped. I watch him, caressing his face with my eyes. It's hard to believe that only three days have passed since my life was turned upside down. I remember the dread I felt as Clark faltered towards revealing his secret to me. I had thought that it would change everything. And yes, everything has changed but not in any way I could ever have predicted.
I still have Clark, plain old Clark, the person I thought I had lost. It was Clark I saved today, not Superman. I've saved Superman before, but it was never this personal. Today I saved the man I love. My best friend.
Henderson pulls up in front of Clark's apartment and Clark gets out, holding the door open for me.
"Should I come up?" I ask him in a low voice.
"I guess that's up to you," he says. "But I'd like it very much if you did."
I thank Henderson and slide out of the car. After Henderson drives away Clark lightly rests his hand at the small of my back to guide me up the stairs. It's hard to believe I was ever irritated with him for such a kind gesture.
"So, uh, do you have your powers back now?"
"I think so."
"Do they always come back quickly?"
"It depends on the exposure. When I was first exposed to Kryptonite it took a lot longer to recover. Maybe I'm building immunity to the stuff."
We go up a flight of stairs without saying anything. My mind is racing as I try to decide whether to ask him to go back to my apartment and get me something besides these scrubs to wear. "Clark? Would you do me a favor?"
"It's just these scrubs. They're comfortable and everything but I'd rather wear something else. Would you mind flying past my apartment and getting me something of mine?"
He stops as we reach the last landing before his door. "Why? I have a closet full of shirts. You can wear any one of them you want."
"I'm serious. In fact, that was the question I wanted to ask you earlier."
"If I could trade the expensive dinner you owe me for something else."
"You, in my shirt. Nothing funny, not tonight. I just want to see you in one of my shirts again."
I can feel the blush creeping across my cheeks as I nod. Then it occurs to me — where are we going to sleep? "But… your mattress… it's destroyed."
"Who says Superman needs a mattress?"
"Oh," I say. He continues up the stairs but I stop in my tracks as it hits me what he meant. "Oh boy."
Thanks again to Sara for all her suggestions, nitpicks and impure snarky comments. She caught my mistakes and my repetitions. She was cheerfully willing to do last minute betas as I polished and pruned. Her eye for detail and ability to quibble over even a single word were invaluable. This story would be nothing without her help. Trust me when I tell you that I have never laughed so hard at so many consecutive betas. Tears, Sara — I was sobbing with laughter.
Thanks also to everyone who commented on the boards, y'all made the time spent well worth it. I've already said this but it bears repeating, FoLCs are the classiest, most generous and supportive group of people I have ever come across. I thank you all for making me feel so welcome.
Did the POV work for you? Were the characters true to the show? Should I have left all attempts at plot in the river with Lois? If I made mistakes (or succeeded) please drop me a line and let me know. Be kind and/or constructive — this is my first attempt, after all. Feedback will be dressed in one of Clark's shirts and tucked into bed at email@example.com