By Sue S. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: January 2007
Summary: Do you have any idea how much I loved "The Phoenix"? In particular the scene in the marina condo where just the looks they give each other are enough to scorch paint off the walls. This is an alternate take on the end of that episode that has lived in my mind lo these many years. It picks up the next morning when they go to confront Sheldon Bender on his boat…
Thanks to alcyone, DJ and Yvonne for their insightful (yet lightning-fast) betas. Once again you have all saved me from myself.
"Hey, Bender!" Lois called out.
Sheldon Bender turned and looked in horrified disbelief as the two reporters walked quickly towards him along the pier. He untied the boat's mooring and raced to the top level to start the engine.
The boat was pulling away from the dock and Lois leapt, barely managing to land on the ledge at the stern. She almost lost her balance but was steadied by a hand at the small of her back. Clark must have excelled in track and field, to be able to make the leap after her. She pushed that thought aside and climbed to the top deck to confront Bender.
"So how much does it cost to buy a judge these days?" she asked as she came up behind Bender. He didn't answer, intent on steering them out of the marina.
"You might as well go back to the dock, Bender. You're just making it worse for yourself now," Clark added from behind her.
Both of them were startled when Bender turned and pointed a handgun at them. "Over there," Bender gestured with the gun to indicate a bench along the side of the cabin. "Just sit there and shut up."
Bender was so jumpy and uncertain in his movements that Lois looked at Clark, raising an eyebrow as if to ask if it was worth trying to wrestle the gun away. Clark shook his head. "Too risky," he mouthed to her. She frowned and rolled her eyes. He was such a chicken sometimes.
"So now what?" she asked Bender after they had sat down.
"Now?" Bender hesitated. "Now he steers." He gestured at Clark with the gun and uneasily traded places with him. Bender sat next to Lois, jamming the gun into her ribs so hard that she winced.
"Do you mind?" she huffed.
"Just take us up the West River," Bender instructed Clark. "And don't try anything stupid. I'm feeling more than a little desperate this morning."
They had gone several miles up the river and Bender was now visibly sweating. Lois had persisted with her questions about why Bender wanted Rollie Vale transferred and what that had to do with Lex Luthor's sudden resurrection but the lawyer clearly didn't want to talk about it. With each question Lois asked he became more and more agitated until Clark wanted to caution her to just keep quiet. He caught her eye and shook his head in warning.
Lois shrugged and mouthed "What?" at him.
"Over there," Bender said, sounding somewhat relieved. "Bring us over to that boathouse and turn the engine off."
Clark steered the boat alongside the dock and cut the engine.
"Now go tie us to the dock. Then just wait there. You try anything and I'll shoot her." Bender shakily waved the gun at Lois.
Clark did as he was instructed and then watched as Bender and Lois joined him on the dock.
"Now what?" Lois asked, looking around. They were on a quiet stretch of the river. There were no other boats or people around. She could see the back end of a large, dark car parked in front of the dock house. Where was Bender going next? And would he take them with him or…? A shiver of dread ran through her. This may have been a bad idea.
"What am I going to do with you two?" Bender bit his lip and looked around, reaching the same conclusion as Lois had — they were completely alone.
"Let us go?" Lois suggested.
Bender looked nauseated. "I can't…I just…but I don't want to kill you."
"Well, that makes three of us," Lois snarked.
"Shut up!" Bender's hands began to shake so much that the gun seemed like it was trying to escape from him. "Shut up right now!"
Clark put a warning hand on her arm and she shook it off.
"Dammit, why did you have to follow me?" Bender raised the gun again and Clark stepped in front of Lois. "Why did you have to follow me?" He looked like he was ready to cry.
"Just go," Clark told him softly. "We won't follow you."
"I can't just leave you here. Oh god, Lex is going to kill me! Loose ends! I've left loose ends everywhere."
"Lex *will* hunt you down and kill you if you do anything to hurt Lois," Clark said, still in that soft tone. "Surely you realize that. You should let her go."
"But not you," Bender laughed. "He'll give me a reward for killing you."
Lois stepped around Clark to shield him. "Nobody is killing anybody. Clark's right, Sheldon. Just go. We won't follow you."
"Are you really going to take their word for it?" The carefully enunciated words could only have come from Nigel St. John. He stepped out of the boathouse and looked with disdain on the scene before him. "God knows why, but Lex is still in love with her." Nigel raised a gun and motioned for Lois to join him. "Won't you please come with me now, Miss Lane?"
"What about Clark?" Lois curled her fingers into the sleeve of Clark's shirt.
"Mr. Kent will have to stay here," Nigel answered.
"No." Her head began to pound as she realized that Nigel intended to kill Clark. "I'll only come with you if Clark does too."
The shot startled everyone but Nigel. Lois let out a surprised gasp and flinched, wondering why she hadn't felt the bullet. Clark took a step forward, realizing too late that he couldn't do anything to help. Bender staggered and fell into the water where his body floated face down.
"Let's go, both of you," Nigel said, gesturing with the gun for them to move. "I have a car waiting."
As they came out of the boathouse, Gretchen Kelly pushed away from leaning against the side of the car and frowned. "What are you going to do with them?"
"Not me," Nigel smiled. "You. Tie them up so they can't cause problems."
"Why me?" Gretchen snarled as she pushed a button on the key chain to open the trunk. "You lazy, arrogant…" The rest of her words were lost in a mutter as she looked inside the trunk. She fished through the items in the roadside emergency kit and only came up with a few feet of yellow nylon rope.
"Stand behind her," she snapped at Clark, "and put your arms around her." Clark did so, watching Gretchen warily. Gretchen grabbed their hands and yanked them forward. "Like this, you idiots. I'm not doing this so you can cuddle." She pulled their hands roughly together and wrapped the rope in and out and around their wrists before tying it into several knots.
"Now get in there." She pointed at the trunk.
"How?" Lois asked. "We can't climb in there like this." She lifted their bound hands.
"Figure it out," Gretchen huffed. "I'm giving you about three seconds and then I'll just shoot you where you stand."
Clark sat on one side of the opening, holding Lois against him with his elbows and hands and tipped backwards into the trunk. He had to twist them, awkwardly shuffling back further into the cramped space so that his body was cupped around hers. No sooner had they drawn their feet inside than Gretchen slammed the lid shut, leaving them in darkness.
"Way to go, Kent," Lois said sarcastically as the car's engine started. "You should have listened to me. We could have taken the gun away from Bender instead of meekly following directions."
Clark took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he counted to ten. It was not worth fighting over — not when he had no idea how long they'd be stuck in the trunk together. "And what if Bender had shot one of us? It wasn't worth the risk."
"You're right. This is much less risky." Lois wasn't about to let the subject go.
The trunk became a sea of red as the brakes lit up and then the engine started. "We should disconnect the brake's wires. Maybe they'll get pulled over for having their lights out," Lois suggested. She reached out and felt for a wire along the trunk's interior.
She stifled the urge to snap at Clark again as his hands came with hers. "I thought this would be easier," she complained as her fingers finally located a strand of wires. She tugged but nothing happened. "Damn it," she muttered. The car began to roll forward.
"Here," Clark said, his fingers covering hers along with the wires. He made a sharp motion and the wires came free. A few seconds later the car came to a stop, but only the brake light near their feet lit up. The car idled for a moment and then accelerated quickly, jostling them forward in the cramped space of the trunk.
"Too bad we can't reach out and wave at passing cars. I don't think our hands will fit through the hole though," she mused.
The car continued to gather speed, moving smoothly and swiftly into the unknown. Her anger dissipated as the reality of their situation set in.
"We're in so much trouble," Lois whispered, "aren't we?"
"We'll be fine," Clark said.
For a moment she almost believed him.
It was hard to tell how long they had been traveling. The hum of the road seemed endless. Lois had never thought that being held by Clark would be this uncomfortable. If it wasn't so scary, maybe it would have been enjoyable. It was certainly more reassuring to be in here with him than without him. Would Nigel really have killed him back at the dock house? She felt a rising panic as she realized that Nigel only acquiesced because he still planned to kill Clark later. She had only delayed the inevitable.
Clark's hands clasped hers, his fingers occasionally stroking over or tightening on hers. His faint possessive touch reminded her of last night. She had lain awake for over an hour last night remembering the sensation of being carried to the bedroom by Clark. Just thinking about him, with only a door to separate them, had created a pleasant awareness inside her. It was a reaction to him that she had certainly felt before that night. It had flared up unexpectedly after he had kissed her under phony circumstances in the honeymoon suite of the Lexor hotel. It had surfaced again on the night of the charity ball when they danced together before Mayson cut in. This awareness of him actually never really left her, she realized. It only went dormant until the next time he touched her in a more than an accidental way.
Experience told her that becoming involved with Clark was risky. She had named so many reasons when he asked her out, leaving the most important one unspoken. What if he broke her heart? Was anyone worth that kind of risk?
Now, trapped in this trunk, their future couldn't possibly be more uncertain or perilous. Now she wanted only to focus on the feel of his hands on hers and the protective way his body encompassed hers. What if this was her last chance to tell him how she felt? She had almost lost him once — had actually seen him crumple to the floor and die before her disbelieving eyes.
It wasn't going to happen again. Not if she could help it. Especially not now when the whisper of his breath on her cheek was a constant reminder of what she was going to lose.
"Clark, if we had gone to the concert last night, would you have taken me somewhere afterwards?"
"Where would you have wanted to go?"
Lois thought about it. "You know what would have been nice?"
"Remember that cafe we ate at a couple of weeks ago?"
"The one with the huge fishtank? Or the one where you got in a fight with the waitress?"
"I didn't get in a fight with that waitress! She was being rude! Anyway, it was neither of those places. I'm talking about the one with the really good coffee. Don't you remember? You had a long discussion with the owner about Jamaican coffee plantations?"
"Oh, okay, yeah, I remember that one."
"We could go there. He had really good pastries, too."
Lois shifted against him. The car's speed had slowed and it seemed like they were taking more curves. Her eyes hurt from staring into the darkness. Every now and then the brake light they couldn't reach would light up, bathing them in a fleeting red glow.
Clark had gone through what seemed like hundreds of scenarios as he tried to figure out what to do next. He couldn't get them out of the trunk with the car still moving — not without drawing attention to them and having to do a lot of explaining to Lois. In the end he kept coming to the same conclusion. He had to tell her.
"I have to confess something," she said abruptly.
"What?" He was startled out of considering how best to tell her his secret.
"I could see you last night — your silhouette on the door. I could see you getting changed. And I watched you when I should have just looked away."
There was pause and then he cleared his throat. "I saw you, too."
"You did? How much did you see?"
"Not much. No, maybe too much. I saw just enough to torture me all night."
"Torture you? Really?" He didn't answer and she found his silence intoxicating with possibilities. "How tortured? Exactly?"
"I don't think I really want to answer that question. Not right now, anyway."
"What about Mayson? What if it had been Mayson behind the door last night? Would you have watched her?"
With a jolt, Clark realized that there wasn't a single woman in the world he would have watched last night besides Lois. "No. And you should know that I did look away. A couple of times, actually."
"So are you dating Mayson or not?"
"I'm not. She's the one asking me out."
Lois shivered and inched closer to him, telling herself it was solely for warmth. "I notice you're not exactly running away. Why is that?"
"It was flattering. But I really would rather go out with you."
She smiled into the darkness and snuggled a little closer to him. "Is it getting colder? Or is it just me?"
"We're headed up into the mountains," he said softly, tightening his arms around her to keep her warm.
He didn't think — he knew. He had been checking every few minutes. "Yeah."
Tell her. Tell her. Tell her. He had to tell her.
"Clark? If we had gone on that date, would you have kissed me good-night at my front door?"
Lois felt his sigh against her neck. "Probably," he admitted.
She laced her fingers loosely with his. "What if I hadn't been sick last night? Would you have kissed me after you carried me to the door?"
"If you hadn't been sick, I wouldn't have needed to carry you to the door."
"No, I guess not. But would you have tried to kiss me at some point?"
"I don't know." He shifted uncomfortably. "I, you, uh, you make me nervous, Lois."
"I do not! After two years of being friends? How can you say that?"
He cleared his throat. "So you wouldn't be nervous if you thought I was about to kiss you?"
Her stomach tightened unexpectedly. "Are you about to kiss me?"
"No," he said softly. "I'm just asking you an illustrative question."
"Oh," she whispered, tamping down the sudden disappointment that was flooding through her. "What was that supposed to illustrate?"
"Nothing, I guess," he admitted. "Apparently I'm the only one who's nervous."
She didn't correct him, uncertain that she wanted him to know just how much of an effect he had on her. The silence stretched out longer and longer as she tried to think of something to say. 'Let it go,' she told herself. 'Just let it go. If you live through this it's going to be mortifying enough that you brought up the subject, let alone pursued it.' But what if they didn't make it? 'No,' she told herself firmly. 'Don't think like that. This is not how it ends.' Not for her and not for Clark. Besides, he couldn't really kiss her in their current position.
"Okay," Lois finally said. "I think I have a plan to get us out of this."
"Me, too," he replied impulsively.
"Mine is better."
The smug tone of her words combined with the confusion he was still feeling to send an irritated twitch through him. "Does yours involve Superman?"
"Well, that would be nice if he showed up, but no."
"Mine does," he countered.
"If we're in the mountains, it's probably too late to start yelling for Superman."
"There's no need."
"Your plan is that good?" Her tone left no doubt that she was certain her plan was superior.
"Lois," he sighed. "This is not the way I wanted to tell you."
"Tell me what?"
His body tensed against hers and then he spoke. "I'm Superman."
She was silent. Disbelief and panic flooded through him. He had done it. He had told her. And she had said…nothing. It was then that he realized that her body was trembling and she was making a gasping sound. Was she crying? Horrified, he realized that she wasn't crying — she was laughing. Her body shook harder and she began to laugh out loud.
Lois laughed until her sides hurt and she was certain that Gretchen and Nigel would pull the car over to find out what was so funny. "Oh my gosh, that was good." She let out another giggle. "That was really, really good."
"I'm serious." He was more than a little offended. Of all the reactions he had expected, this disbelieving laughter had never even crossed his mind.
"If you're Superman, then get us out of here."
He sighed. "Lois, if we disappear from a moving car, Nigel and Gretchen might figure it out. The last person I want to know my secret is Lex Luthor."
She was absolutely quiet. He had expected more of an argument. "Lois?" he prompted.
"You're really Superman?" she clarified.
"Are you wearing the Suit? Right now?"
"Well, no, actually," he admitted.
In the silence that followed he knew she was rolling her eyes.
"I can't for the life of me figure out why you'd make this up," she said.
Clark fought back the urge to retort 'I can't for the life of me figure out why I told you.'
The car began to slow down and Clark let out a sigh. "Lois, they're planning to kill us both. They've been discussing it for miles. Lex won't care that I'm dead but they've decided to tell him that Bender shot you when you tried to escape."
"What? When are they going to do it?" she asked as the car rolled to a stop. Red light flooded the trunk, continuing as the engine shut off. Lois let out a small gasp as Clark moved his hands and snapped the thick rope easily. A moment later the trunk went black again and she heard the car doors open and then slam shut.
"I wish I could see you," she said softly. "It's just kind of surreal to hear all this in the dark, you know?"
His hands closed over her wrists, gathering her arms close to her chest. "It's going to be okay," he whispered.
They could hear two sets of footsteps, walking along either side of the car towards the trunk. Clark tightened his arms around her and swiftly rolled them so that his body would be shielding hers when the trunk opened. There was a moment of silence and then two shots rang out. Lois flinched and trembled, her hand taking a shaky grip on his sleeve.
"Nigel just killed Gretchen," he whispered.
"Oh no, Clark." Her voice broke on his name at the realization that they were next on Nigel's list.
"It's going to be okay, I promise." His lips moved in an almost-kiss against her ear as he spoke. No sooner had he spoken then several more shots rang out, this time puncturing through the metal of the trunk, leaving small shafts of daylight in their wake. Lois jumped and twitched with each shot, unaware that she was letting out a series of terrified shrieks with each blast.
Clark rolled forward to cover her, counting to match each bullet with its shot as they bounced away from his back and legs. He placed one hand along her cheek protectively.
As quickly as the hail of bullets had begun, it stopped. The tense silence that followed was unnerving. Lois bit her lip, willing herself not to make a sound. Behind her, Clark's breathing was reassuringly deep and even.
"What's he doing?" Lois murmured. "What's going on?"
"He's putting Gretchen's body back in the car."
The engine turned over again and the car rolled slowly forward. "I think he's going to push us over the edge."
"We're at a scenic view area. I don't know how closely Nigel is going to be watching, so you have to try not to scream or draw attention to us, okay?"
She nodded vigorously, tensing as the car seemed to pick up speed. "Yes, okay," she said breathlessly.
"Lois, can you turn over and face me? Can you hold on to me, tight? We're going to have to move really fast."
"I, uh, yes, right, of course." Lois wiggled until she was facing him but wasn't sure how to hold him in the cramped conditions.
"Here, lift up for a second," he said softly. She did and his arm slipped beneath her, holding her securely against him. She put her arms around his neck.
"You really are Superman, aren't you?" The car lurched and slowed as it bounced over rougher terrain. She buried her face in his shirt, inhaling the familiar scent of him. Clark was Superman, she told herself. And a damn good thing, too, or they'd both be dead already.
"That's how the champagne was so cold," she said softly. "And it wasn't a defective bulb, was it?"
"No." He shook his head, his chin bumping against her forehead. "I was just flustered."
"Because I didn't know how to explain the champagne being cold. I swear, sometimes it's like I wanted you to catch me in a lie. I've wanted to tell you this for so long."
Suddenly they were both weightless and then pressed tightly against the trunk's lid. Clark reached behind him, breaking the lock of the trunk. He held Lois against him as the car continued to fall away. He brought them close against the cliff, hoping that Nigel wasn't watching or couldn't see them.
Lois looked down to see the car smash and roll several times before landing upside down in a shower of dust and shattered glass. Even more jarring was the realization that she was seeing all this from a vantage point that included the toes of Clark's sneakers.
She closed her eyes, feeling the same nausea from last night roll through her only this time it wasn't food poisoning. This time it was her own blindness and his deception, and a vaguely horrified realization that she had no clue what to say to him when he — *Clark * — was suspending them some fifty feet off the ground.
"Lois," he said, his voice husky with trepidation. "Lois, are you okay?"
She opened her eyes and looked up at him, squinting against the bright sunlight. Random moments from the past two years flooded through her memory. All those disappearances, all those lame excuses, all those times that Superman had been so inexplicably nearby at exactly the right moment. The last memory, the one she focused on, was Superman, showing up at her apartment on the night of Church's charity benefit.
"Why did you come to my apartment and dance with me that night?"
He knew immediately which night she meant. "It was something you said when I dropped you off."
She frowned, trying to remember what she had said to him.
"You said that you were sorry Mayson had cut in and that I still owed you a dance," he prompted. "I just didn't want to wait until the next charity ball."
"Oh," she said quietly, uncertain what to do with this new knowledge.
"I almost told you that night." His eyes met hers as he spoke.
"Why didn't you?"
He shook his head. "I don't know. I've been afraid."
"Of your reaction. Of how angry you were going to be."
"But I'm not angry," she whispered. "Not really."
He gave her a hopeful smile.
"So how many times have you saved my life now?" she asked.
He shook his head. "I never kept track."
"Really?" she asked, feeling the oddest sense of relief at his answer.
"Don't forget that you've saved me, too."
"Yeah," she said softly. "I guess I have."
"I remember those perfectly," he told her.
"Do you know what I'm going to remember perfectly?" she asked.
She giggled and reached up to touch his cheek. "Finding out that I could fluster Superman."