By Beth Summerson <email@example.com>
Submitted: October 2007
Summary: "Top Copy" gets the ultimate exclusive they were looking for, and Martha has no laser sculpture to give Clark. How will the world cope?
This story starts in the last half of Top Copy, a Season 2 episode. It's assuming that Rolf did manage to get the footage of Clark changing into Superman and that Martha doesn't provide the use of a laser hologram to prove Top Copy wrong. WARNING: there is some violence, and a bit of a WHAM, but don't worry, everything turns out all right.
I would like to thank my beta Nancy for providing very helpful insight, and the people on the L&C boards for the wonderful feedback and support in my first story. Also thanks to Caroline K. for being a great GE.
So here's "An Early Revelation: Top Copy"
Dying from exposure, he had always imagined, would be a cold and isolated experience. Slowly, the forces of nature would winnow away at a person's life force, leaving him empty and lifeless. No one around to help, no one to be comforted by. Just the elements of nature.
This type of exposure was different. It felt hot and confining. The walls of the elevator pressed in on him as it crawled up the shaft on its way to the newsroom, where everyone was gathered around the TV, watching his biggest secret being torn to shreds. The voice of Diana Stride cut across his thought pattern as she narrated her exclusive footage of his slow, painful transformation from mild-mannered reporter to super-powered extra-terrestrial. Had she been on the balcony the entire time? He had been in such a daze from the Kryptonite poisoning that she could have been in the room with a camera shoved in his face and he probably wouldn't have noticed. Half-baked schemes of denial died in the making. There was no way he could contradict a video-tape of Clark Kent slowly morphing into Superman. His glasses pulled down, he witnessed the stunned reactions of his colleagues. They whispered to each other, none of them wanting to believe the tape, yet the irrefutable evidence was right in front of them. He caught snippets of murmured phrases: "Always thought they looked alike…" "Never in the same place…" "…wonder if Lois knew?"
All too soon, the elevator dinged and the doors pulled open to reveal a sea of eyes, swiveling to meet him. Although stepping from the elevator should have relieved his sense of confinement, those staring eyes only served to increase the pressure upon him. They were slowly stifling him, sending his brain wildly searching for a way to clear everything up in a neat, concise statement. Never, in the history of the English language had such a sentence existed. Finding no cure-all statement, and desperately needing reprieve from those glaring eyes, he said the next best thing:
It was like she was driving a train. When the show started, she was in control, making her scheduled stops without any difficulty. As Diana's expose continued, the train sped up, but she was still desperately clinging to the hope that it was all a hoax. Because it couldn't really be true, it couldn't possibly be real. But the more she saw, the less she could deny. Clark Kent, her partner of over a year, had suddenly become the god in a cape she had been pursuing relentlessly, shamelessly for just as long. This, of course, occurred at the exact same time as an international celebrity had become the man whom she was just recently starting to warm up to in just the right way. As Diana Stride's exclusive report unfolded, she was struck speechless, an uncommon occurrence if there ever was one. She ordered herself to focus, look at the information analytically, objectively, but by now her personal thought train was careening down the track, heedless of danger and refusing to stop at the familiar stations of Logic and Reason. Clark Kent slowly, painfully became Superman on the TV as millions of people watched. She remembered finding him lying like that, nearly passed out in pain earlier that day. At the time, she hadn't really pondered the fact that Superman had collapsed in Clark's apartment and… Oh! Clark had gone home sick on the same day. How many million other coincidences were there lodged in her memory, ready to break through and remind her of what an idiot she was?
Too busy fuming, she didn't notice the chirpy ding of the elevator, notifying the newsroom that it was to receive another person. It wasn't until the majority of her coworkers had turned to stare at the newcomer that she turned around.
There he was, Clark Kent. Reporter and super-hero extraordinaire. At last, a sense of familiarity. The glasses, artfully disheveled hair, and loud tie, were all old friends to Lois Lane. Even the look of complete panic was familiar and strangely comforting to her. The frantic pace of her thoughts slowed as she watched Clark open and close his mouth, guppy-like, no doubt in search of what to say.
"Uh… Hi." His words were a balm to her confusion-chafed heart. So typical of Clark to be awkward and unsure. THIS was the man she knew and worked with. THIS was the man who brought her coffee every day with one and a half artificial sweeteners and a smidgen of skim milk. Her brain frowned. This was also the man who lied to her constantly. This was the man who ran out on her regularly without proper explanation. This was the man who didn't trust her enough to tell her the truth. This was the man who… Her brain paused. This was also the man who was standing dumbly in front of all his colleagues making a moron of himself after being outed on national television. Well, what were partners for anyway? If she could just get him alone in the conference room then she could give him the proper tongue lashing he deserved.
"Clark…" She wasn't sure how to continue, should she try to be discreet? Then again, discretion was never one of her strong suits. Maybe she should just… But it turned out that her half formulated plan was enough to spur her shell shocked partner into action.
"Chief, can I see you in your office? Lois too?" His eyes fell on Jimmy, and Lois could see a look of resignation cross Clark's face, "and Jimmy." With a wordless nod, Perry headed into his office, with Lois, Jimmy, and the newly exposed Superman falling in behind.
He told them everything. From the very start: with Jonathan and Martha Kent finding a baby in a space ship and taking him home. It was cathartic. For the first time in his life, Clark was able to be completely honest and open to someone other than his parents. Hunched over, head in his hands, staring at his lap, he explained the perils of growing up radically different from others, of discovering new and extraordinary powers as he matured, the frustration he felt at being able to help but having to hold back in order to protect his secret. He talked about his years at college, the freedom he felt, along with the restrictions of always making sure no one would discover his secret; he talked about his need to travel after he graduated, to explore distant places.
"There was always something secure about being the stranger in a group. When people first met me they had no reason to think I was any different than I appeared. It wasn't until something would happen and I would have to help that people started getting suspicious. Then I had to move on.
"The best part about being Superman was that I was able to lead a normal life. There was this big colorful cartoon character flying around that distracted perfectly from plain, ordinary Clark. I could hold down a job, build relationships, make friends… All that kind of stuff because no one had any reason to think I was any different. Of course now that's all gone out the window with the secret identity." Perry shifted in his seat.
"Clark, you know you have a job here at the Planet as long as you want it." Clark looked up at Perry.
"Thanks Chief, but I don't know what kind of exclusives I'll be able to get with a paparazzi parade after me everywhere I go." There was a pause. "Chief, I want to tell my story, before everyone else tells it for me. I can have something ready for you in half an hour. That's plenty of time to make it into the morning edition, right?"
"Sure Clark." Perry glanced out into the newsroom. "Why don't you just type it up in my office here? It will be less… distracting"
"For myself or for the other reporters?" Clark quipped. He grinned shakily. Perry returned the smile.
"Look Clark, why don't you take a couple days off? Let some of the novelty wear off. I'm sure people will get over the shock soon, they just need some time to adjust."
"Yeah." Clark looked over to where Jimmy had been standing silent the entire time. He was acutely aware of Lois sitting, silent and tense beside him, but he wasn't ready to tackle that monster yet. Take it bit by bit. "Jimmy, are you okay?" Jimmy gave a shaky smile.
"Yeah CK, sure. Just, you know… I mean c'mon… Superman?!! Who'da thought? It's just so… you know…" He trailed off uncertainly. Clark smiled.
"I know Jimmy, it must be strange for you, but remember I'm still Clark first and foremost." Clark anxiously searched Jimmy's face. He needed this. If all his friends were going to treat him differently because of him being Superman then he wasn't sure where he could turn. Jimmy finally met eyes with him. Clark relaxed. Although Jimmy was understandably shaken, Clark was sure their friendship would survive. Perry cleared his throat.
"Well, we better leave you to your writing Clark. Just let me know when I can have it." Perry stood and made for the door in his office before turning around once more. "Oh, and Clark…"
"Feel free to exit by the window… You know, to avoid the press." He paused. "Both inside and outside this building." With a grin, Perry exited the office, followed closely behind by Jimmy. Lois stood up stiffly as if to follow, but somehow Clark managed to find his voice.
"Lois…" She turned and faced him, her expression unreadable. Desperately, he tried to pull his scattered thoughts together
and form a coherent sentence. "Could you just come sit, and… I-I just…" Why was it so difficult to think? "There are some things I need to tell you." Lois walked over to the sofa, and slowly sank into the seat, her eyes never leaving Clark's. He took a deep breath and pulled himself together.
"I need you to know that out of all the people I…hid from, you were the one I wanted to tell the most. You were the one I was going to tell. I was just…" He paused. How could he explain the complexity of his decision making? "I just wanted to wait until the right moment," he finished lamely. Lois' wooden face remained still. His heart sank. "Please understand Lois."
"Clark, I'm trying to understand, really." She blinked and looked down. "I just need some time to get used to all this. I can't talk about it right now." She stood once again and walked stiffly to the door.
"Yeah, um… sure. Just…just let me know when you're ready to talk." Lois nodded quickly.
"Yeah," she whispered, so quiet he could barely hear it. Then she exited the office, closing the door firmly behind her. Clark sighed and walked around the desk to Perry's computer. Losing Lois over this would crush him, but he also knew that pushing the issue would only drive her further away. For now, all he could do was wait and hope that she could come to forgive him. Pulling the chair close to the desk, he sat down. He took a deep breath and began typing. It was time to tell the world his story.
Lois tapped her pencil sharply on the surface of her desk, heedless of the glares from her fellow employees. Everyone was on edge tonight. The usually buzzing newsroom was instead filled with clumps of people whispering to each other and glancing continually at Perry's office and occasionally at Lois' desk. Although no one had any real reason to stay late tonight, no one had left since Top Copy's exclusive had aired. Idle curiosity seekers, Lois scoffed. They should just call it a night and go home.
But then again, so should she. She was tired, worn out, and didn't she just finish telling Clark that she needed time to think? She was such a mess of emotions. Her first instinct was to shout at him, scream all sorts of nasty things in his face, and accuse him of all the hurt and confusion he had caused her. But that look on her partner's face in Perry's office, the one that was so sad and resigned, forced her to back down and think through her actions, which had never come naturally to Lois. It was as if there were two Loises. There was the old familiar 'Mad Dog Lane', who refused to be used and discarded by anyone, determined to put up a protective shell to prevent such a thing from ever happening. Then, there was this newer, fresher Lois. The Lois who was willing to take chances in her personal life, who for some reason was willing to trust people in a way she couldn't before. She was unfamiliar with this Lois; where had she even come from? It was this Lois who started off.
What exactly did "partners" mean, she wondered. Lois thought back to when Mayson was threatening to sue because she refused to reveal the "source" that led them to the government safe house. What was it that he had said? 'Whatever one of us does, the other person takes responsibility for.' Clark had backed her up then, even though she had been the one to steal Mayson's pager. Actually, Clark often backed her up whenever she did one of her wild and crazy, yet completely necessary, stunts. As his partner, did she owe him some kind of loyalty even though she didn't agree with everything he had done? Perhaps.
But at this, the good old fighter Lois Lane chimed in: he had hurt her, she argued. The lies he'd spun for public consumption had been for her too! He had left her in the dark about so many things. How could she just forget about that?
At the same time, New Lois said, how many of her escapades were fully backed by him? Most of the time she just dived right in, expecting Clark to follow willingly. Maybe he deserved some loyalty in return.
But this, Old Lois complained, was different circumstances. She had stolen Mayson's pager as part of their investigation; Clark's Superman activities weren't part of the reporting job. Although many of his deeds ended up on the front page, Lois was never really a part of what he did.
But, New Lois reminded her, they both knew that their relationship was more than just professional, that they were partners after they had left the Planet for the day. Could she put all her hurt feelings behind for the time being and support her partner, and friend, and maybe more? It went against Lois' nature, but how could she expect such loyal devotion from Clark when she wasn't willing to do the same thing for him? Her partner was in a bind. That much was certain.
What she needed, Lois decided, was to understand Clark. She thought she knew him, but since that airing of the tape, and especially since his confession in Perry's office, she realized that there was a huge part of him that he had kept hidden. If she could just understand that part, then maybe she could put aside her hurt feelings and support him just as he had supported her all those times. Studying him through the pulled blinds of the editor's office, Lois began to ponder the enigma that was Clark Kent.
He didn't look alien to her. The thought of Clark Kent hurtling through space en route from an exploding planet seemed so strange and ludicrous to her. She couldn't wrap her head around it. With Superman, it was easy. He appeared so otherworldly and slightly removed from reality that even the most fantastical stories about him seemed to make perfect sense. Clark, however, seemed so normal. Remembering his testimony in the office earlier, it appeared that all Clark ever wanted was to be normal, nothing else. Lois leaned forward to get a better look at her partner. Did he really reject his alien heritage so violently? As Superman, he seemed to embrace it as perfectly acceptable, but all Clark Kent wanted, it seemed, was a normal life.
That was why Clark seemed so human, she decided. Although he had been gifted with the ability to do extraordinary things, he still strived to be accepted by those around him. Looking at him through the window blinds of Perry's office, she smiled. He was typing on Perry's computer, so absorbed with what he was doing that he had probably tuned out all the other voices in the newsroom. His work ethic spoke again of his humanity. Although he could have easily made a career as a professional athlete or something, he had chosen a profession where he was not easily the best. Where he had to work hard to prove himself to others and to be truly good at what he did. Although Clark was intelligent and gifted with words, he wasn't super-intelligent or a super-writer. Clark, she mused, liked to be recognized and respected for what he worked hard for. Superman was often only thought of as a droid-like tool. Many people only focused on the physical things he could do and ignored the other aspects of his character.
So deep were her thoughts in working out this mystery, that she didn't hear the elevator chime ring. She didn't even hear the newcomer enter and walk to the edge of the balcony. She didn't even know about the gun until the echo of its shot was heard across the newsroom. Quickly, she turned to see the perpetrator, only to confront a large, tightly clasped hand, an inch from her face. That hand was, of course, connected to her partner Clark Kent. Before she could even process what must have happened, Clark had sped across the room and was holding the shooter's hands behind his back in one hand and holding the gun in the other. Lois was curious. This was the first time she had seen Clark perform any kind of super-duties while not in uniform and she was interested to see the difference.
Although Clark still exuded the same confidence that Superman did, the energy was less flashy somehow. Clark's face was drawn with tension and he didn't hold himself in the same broad, all powerful stance that Superman did. Instead of making the usual admonishing comments in a clear, ringing tone, he spoke in a subdued voice.
"Why would you try a stunt like that? You knew I was here. You knew I would stop you." The man refused to speak. Lois could see the sorrow over the man's attack evident on Clark's face. Clearly, her partner was feeling responsible for this, although she had no idea why. "Why did you come here tonight?" he asked. The man Clark had in his grip was young, probably early twenties, with a distinctly scruffy look. He wore a toque over his head, but he had made no other effort to disguise himself. He had a look of insane pride on his face, and he refused to make eye contact with Clark.
"This attack is nothing." The man had a sense of nobility about him, no matter how warped it appeared to the other people in the room. "I have sacrificed my freedom for the sake of the Cause. This building has housed an alien for over a year, unable or perhaps unwilling to see the truth. I am but a messenger for the punishment that is to come."
Lois couldn't believe it. This was the first time she had ever come across such sentiments since Jason Trask was killed, and that was when Superman first made his appearance. She had thought that all residual doubt would have been cleared up by now after Superman had spent so long in Metropolis doing nothing but good. Apparently this was news to Clark as well, as he had suddenly gone completely white, and with a blur, tied the shooter to the nearest chair and came over to Lois. He looked pale, tense and worried. He gently placed a hand on her arm and steered her in the opposite direction of the shell-shocked spectators.
"Lois, can you do me a favor?" he asked in a low voice. He discreetly passed her the gun he had taken from the shooter. Lois noticed that there were indentations where his fingers had been. "I need you to watch him," Clark indicated the prisoner with his head. "Just until the police come to pick him up."
"Where are you going?" Clark shifted on the spot.
"Smallville. If whatever group that sent him here has a thing against the Planet for giving me a job for the last year and a half, I can't imagine what they feel about my parents." Lois gasped. For the first time, she began to recognize the danger Clark was in because of the knowledge to world had over him. She tightened her hold on the gun and nodded.
"Go take care of your parents."
"I'll come back later and take you home; you could be in danger too." Lois shook her head. Although she would appreciate a paparazzi-free ride home, flying with Clark was much too close contact until she sorted out her very confused feelings over this whole affair.
"No, Clark. You need to watch out for other people. I'll be fine, I always am. Now get out of here and check up on your parents." Clark gave what she could only describe as a scoff, or as close to one as her perpetually polite partner could ever get to.
"Lois, you're never fine. The number of times-"
"Clark," she interrupted, "I don't want to hear it. Go take care of your parents. I'll get the police to take me home or something." Clark hesitated but finally decided to leave. With a gust of air he was gone, leaving the bay windows open, letting in the breeze. Lois braced herself and turned towards her prisoner, gun trained on his chest. "Okay buddy, don't you dare move an inch."
Clark sat on the roof of his parents' house and brooded. Since Diana Stride's on screen revelation he hadn't had much time to think through the consequences of what had happened. Now that he had the chance, he wasn't too happy with the obvious conclusions. His career at the Planet was undecided. Perry had confirmed that Clark Kent had a job as long as he wanted it, but what kind of articles could he publish now that the general population knew he was Superman? As a public figure who often had to take a stand on difficult decisions, how would that affect his credibility as a reporter? His work would be seen as biased, and the general public would claim that his two jobs were a conflict of interest. And they were, he admitted. Often he obscured facts from Lois and Perry so they would not be published in order to protect Superman's image. This was only so he could go about doing his job, but the fact remained that his articles were often slanted in a way to mislead the public.
As for his personal life, he had no idea where he stood with Lois. She hadn't started yelling at him yet, which could be seen as a positive sign. Then again, knowing Lois, she could still blow up at him with very little warning. He would just have to wait until she was ready to talk. It was the least he could do after what he had put her through. On the positive side, Perry and Jimmy already seemed to be adapting well to this unforeseen aspect of Clark's character. After traveling to Smallville to check on his parents, Clark had gone back to Metropolis and captured Diana and Rolf as they attempted to board a private plane heading to Jamaica. Getting them into custody had not been difficult, so at least one thing had gone well tonight. Since he had returned to Metropolis anyway, Clark had decided to see if the situation at the Daily Planet had been resolved. He was slightly disappointed to see that Lois had gone home already, but he was immensely relieved to find out that the remaining staff had also left with the exception of Jimmy and Perry. They spent some time talking and working things out, chuckling at some of the fast thinking that Clark had pulled in the past in order to protect his secret. Clark's worry was that once people knew he was Superman, people would start treating him with the same reverence they always did. Clearly, this was not to be with these two. Clark and Superman had simply become just Clark.
Unfortunately, this was not the same everywhere. It was different now, to go to places as Superman and be instantly recognized as Clark, and vice versa. Like the emperor with his new clothes in that fairy tale. For the past year and a half, that had been one of his greatest fears. He had always wondered how long it would be before some child pointed at him in the street saying "hey wait a minute… That guy wearing the glasses is Superman!" Now, it would be a constant reality. He couldn't deny the accusation, nor hedge around the question. He would have to face these wide-eyed pointers with complete openness and frankness. For the rest of his life.
He was startled out of his revere by a heavy clunk on the side of the house. A few moments later, Jonathan Kent appeared, climbing up the ladder to the roof. He walked across the shingles, and sat down to join his son. They sat in silence for a while, both looking at the multitude of stars. Clark was first to break the silence.
"They still don't know who the shooter is."
"You went by the police station?"
"Yeah. He wasn't carrying any ID, and he's refused to give a name. They're running his picture and prints, but it could be a while before they find anything." Frustrated, Clark began ripping the useless preliminary police report into tiny pieces. "He said that he was just a warning, which means that either he's insane or that he's got accomplices, maybe a whole organization. But I haven't heard of any kind of organization like this before. Dad, I have no idea who these people are." Looking at the sad pile of paper pieces, he decided that maybe they weren't quite small enough, and continued with his ripping. "All I know is that they're going after Clark to get to Superman. They attacked my place of work, specifically my partner. Does that mean everyone I know is in danger? I can't guard everyone Dad, but I have no idea of who might be the next target." The pile of paper started slowly smoldering as Clark stared at it with his heat vision. "You could be the next, or Lois, or Perry, my landlord. For all I know, the guy who sold me my last pair of running shoes could be a target!" Jonathan put a calming hand in Clark's shoulder.
"Clark, you're wearing yourself out with all this. You need to take a step back, focus on what you do know about these people."
"Well you said you haven't seen this group anywhere before. That probably means they've been underground, or they're just starting up." Clark could see where this was going. Nodding his agreement, he continued along his father's line of thought.
"They're weak right now. They'll probably stick to easy targets, close to their base." Jonathan nodded. "And they're probably based in Metropolis, it makes the most sense. That's where I am."
"So you can eliminate any targets outside of Metropolis for the time being. Including your mother and me."
"Dad I can't just let you-"
"Clark, your mother and I have already talked this through. We figure the only people who will bother us are a few reporters, which we can handle. We trust you to nip this whole Superman fanaticism in the bud. We won't see any of them here. As for the reporters, Superman is a lot bigger in Metropolis than in Smallville. I doubt that we'll get a lot trouble." Clark hesitated, but finally agreed. "Besides Clark, you've got enough to worry about taking care of business in Metropolis. I'm sure everything has been pretty nuts after tonight."
"Tell me about it," Clark said. "My apartment, the Daily Planet, and even Lois' and Perry's places are overrun with reporters. Everyone's going crazy trying to get this story. People I've met before, people I worked with are now screaming at me trying to get a statement. This guy who I had a drink with at the last journalism convention is now trying to climb up my drainpipe and plant microphones in my apartment."
"What are you going to do about the media?"
"I've asked Perry to call a press conference tomorrow. I'll explain my side of the story, give them some good quotes, and then ask them to leave me alone. I'm not going to stop living my life as Clark just because everyone knows about me." Jonathan stoic face finally broke into a smile.
"That's great Clark, I'm really glad you're taking this into your own hands." He gave a yawn. "So are you going to come inside anytime soon? We assumed you were staying the night."
"Yeah, I'll be in soon Dad. I just want to stay out here for a bit."
"Alright Clark." Jonathan hoisted himself up from his spot on the roof, and walked towards the ladder. Reaching the top, he turned to face his son before descending. "And Clark?"
"We're proud of you son."
"Thanks Dad." Clark watched as his dad disappeared from view. Leaning back to lay on the shingles, he drank in the light of the stars. It was so peaceful here. Clark wished he could stay on this rooftop forever, but he knew that tomorrow he would have to go back to Metropolis and take care of the mess that Diana Stride had left his life in. But for tonight, he would sit on the roof of the house he grew up in, protecting the people who had protected him throughout his entire life.
Unlike the other buildings Clark had hovered over in the last day, the Hall of Justice was not swarming with reporters. Of course, it helped that no one was expecting Superman to turn up here. His apartment, the Daily Planet, and even the apartments of some of his colleagues were surrounded by reporters hoping to nab him as he came for a landing. He had followed Lois to work that morning to make sure that she didn't come into any harm. He knew that she needed space from him, but watching her battle through the mob in front of the Planet was almost enough to get him to swoop down and pluck her from the crowd. Luckily, Franklin Stern had authorized additional security for the building and they were able to get Lois in while keeping the press out. Hopefully, security also would help to keep out any potential psychos. Clark had hovered over the building as long as he could, but he had other commitments to worry about today and he had had to leave Lois, trusting that she would be all right for a few hours.
Not many people knew about his longstanding appointment with Mayson Drake, and those who did were not about to sell it to the tabloids. Since the trial for Baby Rage had been postponed after the incarceration of Martin Snell, Mayson had wanted to set up a meeting with Clark to prepare for the trial yet again. They had chosen this date weeks ago, and neither of them had had any idea that something as monumental as last night would have happened. But however chaotic Clark's life was at the moment, he refused to let it interfere with something as important as testifying at a trial. Also, he knew that Mayson deserved an explanation just as much as Perry and Jimmy did.
The only problem was how to get into the building relatively unnoticed. Right now, he was all but invisible, flying above the clouds. As soon as he touched down, he knew he would be recognized. But it was important that he enter the building through the front door, at normal speed, on foot. This would show the world that he really did mean to continue as Clark Kent, average citizen, despite the fact that everyone knew otherwise. Taking a deep breath, Clark arrowed down into a nearby alley and quickly spun into his street clothes, glasses and all. He then exited the alley and jogged up the steps of the Hall of Justice. He was careful to keep his head down and avoid direct eye contact, but it was not long before his acute hearing picked up on the furious whispers of those he passed. He was recognized instantly. As he entered the lobby, the whispering grew louder. It buzzed in his ears as a flush crept up his face. Thankfully, he spotted an elevator just as it opened up into the lobby, letting out a few passengers. He walked quickly as he crossed the remainder of the room, and slid into the quiet elevator car, the doors closing after him.
Almost instantly, he regretted his decision. There were only about three other people in the spacious elevator, but the piercing looks he received were enough to shrink a football stadium. One man with a briefcase and hair that pretty much screamed 'lawyer' cleared his throat.
"Excuse me," he asked hesitantly, "but aren't you Clark Kent? Or… Superman rather?" This was the first time he had been questioned about his identity in public. He knew that it was bound to happen constantly now, so there was no point in denying it.
"Yes, I am. I prefer to go by Clark though."
"Oh, well," The man cleared his throat again nervously. "I was just wondering why you're taking the elevator."
"I, uh, need to get to the fifth floor." He gestured to the panel of buttons in front of them.
"Yeah, but couldn't you just fly up to the window? Or at least run up the stairwell, you know… superspeed?" By this time, Clark was desperately wishing that's what he had done.
"Well, yeah I guess I could, but I try to live a normal life as possible. I use my powers to help others, but that doesn't mean I don't get around like everyone else, or that I don't do things that other people do, even if I don't have to." From the look on the man's face, Clark could tell that he didn't understand a word Clark had said. Thankfully, the fifth floor arrived quicker than expected, and Clark was able to exit the confining space. Was this the way it was always going to be? Unable to take a cab, buy groceries, or drink coffee without people questioning his need to do so? Sure, he didn't *need* to do any of that stuff, but he enjoyed it. The monotony of everyday life allowed Clark to feel normal, and accepted. How would that change now that everyone thought it was all a facade? Shaking himself out of his thoughts, he approached Mayson's secretary, who was typing on her computer, a look of complete boredom on her face.
"Excuse me; I'm here to see Mayson Drake. My name is Clark Kent, I have an appointment." Immediately, the look on the secretary's face morphed into one of absolute adoration. Clark shifted uncomfortably. Although he was used to getting these as Superman, it was disconcerting to be on the receiving end in glasses and a tie.
"Is it true?" she whispered. "Are you really Superman?"
"Wow." After a couple seconds of silence, Clark decided to remind her once again that he was here to see the Assistant DA. "Oh, right! Just a second." She grabbed the phone, and pressed a button. "Ms. Drake, *Superman* is here to see you!" A pause. "Okay, I'll send him in." All this she did without taking her eyes off Clark, who was feeling increasingly uncomfortable. The secretary hung up her phone.
"Ms. Drake says to go right on in." She gestured to a door on her right. Clark was all too glad to escape the stare of the secretary, so he wasted no time in walking through the door and into Mayson's office.
Mayson was sitting at her desk when he entered. She didn't even look up from her papers when the door opened, she just kept writing in a jerky, uneven script.
"So Superman," she began, her voice heavily laced with sarcasm. "Now that the big secret's out, is that how you're going to be introducing yourself from now on?" Clark's stomach clenched. Mayson was obviously angry with him, and rightfully so.
"Mayson…I don't…I mean, I'm not…I'm not like that, Mayson, you know that, don't you?" Mayson stabbed her paper forcefully, capped her pen, and snapped her head up.
"Why are you here Clark?" Her face was closed off, blank to him.
"The Baby Rage trial. We made an appointment…"
"Oh… That's right, I'd forgotten." She looked flustered, her embarrassment at the forgotten appointment clouding over her anger at Clark. "Come on and sit down." There was a moment of silence. Clark could see the battle going on underneath the surface. She was struggling to maintain her professional attitude in what was obviously a professional visit. Eventually, her personal side won out.
"Do you remember when I first talked to you about this case?" she blurted out. Clark nodded. "I told you that you were brave to stand up and testify. That you were special for it." Under her breath she added: "Stupid of me."
"Why?" Clark was thoroughly confused.
"It's not a risk for you to testify," Mayson said incredulously. "You can't get hurt, you can't die. You invulnerable." She spat out that last word as if it were poison. "You can't take any risks because nothing is a danger to you." Clark couldn't believe it. He had though Mayson was one of the few who would actually understand.
"Mayson, do you have any idea what a risk it was becoming Superman?" She gave him a cold stare. Clark decided to take that as permission to continue. "Up until a year and a half ago, I was wandering the globe helping out in little minor ways, trying not to get caught while doing the best I could."
"Yeah, I know, I read the article." She waved a copy of the Daily Planet in front him.
"Well that article doesn't go into some of the downsides of being too powerful. Not even a week after I became Superman, the Planet was invaded by rogue government agents looking for a way to kill me! They threw Lois out of a plane because they thought I *might* come rescue her. I've lost track of the number of times people have tried to manipulate me by any means necessary. Lex Luthor alone has tried to get rid of me dozens of times and dozens of ways, many of which have come dangerously close to succeeding." Clark didn't know what had gotten into him; maybe it was the stress or lack of sleep. Whatever it was, he couldn't seem to stop talking. All the words and emotions flowed out of him in a nonstop stream. He stood up and began pacing the room.
"I have so much power, people are afraid of me. I don't blame them. But to reassure them I try to… to project this image of infallibility. I show them a man with no chinks in his armor. Who makes no mistakes and isn't swayed by human emotions. That way people will trust me. But the actual fact, Mayson, is that I'm not perfect. I can make mistakes, hurt people, and get hurt myself. Every time I put on that suit I make choices, and take huge risks. Risks that have repercussions for others and for me. Can't you see that?" He glanced over at Mayson. She was sitting, frozen, in her chair. "And even Superman isn't nearly as vulnerable as Clark Kent is. I mean, Clark was killed last night when that videotape of me aired." At this, Mayson was summoned out of her dazed state.
"What do you mean?" Clark paused, searching for a way to explain.
"When I'm Superman," he began, "people don't look at me."
"They look at what I can do. They look at my… strangeness. I'm not complaining. That's what made the whole dual identity thing work. People don't see Superman as a person. Part of that is because the whole appearing perfect thing I was telling you about, but part of it is because I am different. Not even human, technically." He walked over to the window and peered down at the press mob that had gathered by the front entrance. No doubt word of his whereabouts had spread. He sighed. "I can handle that, for the most part. I always had normality back when I slipped on my glasses. But now, everywhere I go I get those looks. Clark Kent is dead because all people ever see now is Superman. The powers, the facade, the alien. People don't understand me; they don't see me as a person. I can't even use an elevator without arousing suspicion! If no one understands why I want to use an elevator instead of fly up the stairs, how will people understand that I need human contact? For all purposes I am human, Mayson, and I need to be able to feel like it!" He turned from the window to look at Mayson again, and was shocked to see her crying. Immediately, he rushed over to her, not yet daring to touch her.
"Oh, Mayson, I'm so sorry! I…I didn't mean to hurt you. I shouldn't have gotten so angry."
"Y-you were right though. Put me in my place."
"I didn't mean it in that way. It's just this last day has been so crazy, and…"
"Clark, it's okay. I'm glad you said all those things." She sniffled a little and then continued in a slightly more steady voice. "All that stuff you said about Clark being gone, and no one seeing you anymore? I was acting just like that. I didn't see you anymore Clark, and I'm so sorry…" She started crying again and Clark reached out and touched her shoulder. Gradually, she got herself under control again. "I guess the reason why I was so upset was because I fell for this great, perfectly normal guy, and it turned out he didn't exist."
"Mayson, I'm still-"
"No Clark, just let me finish." She drew in a deep steadying breath. "You said Clark was dead. The truth is there never really was a Clark. At least, not the way you portrayed him. Clark Kent, as everyone saw him, was a sweet, simple guy. He avoided making waves, and he was a bit of a klutz. He wore glasses. Not to obscure his face so people wouldn't recognize his alter ego, but because he was short sighted, or far sighted, or had astigmatism. It kind changed based on the circumstances." Clark gave a tentative smile, but Mayson didn't return it. "Don't you see Clark? Even though most of what you said was true, part of you was still a bit of a lie. You're not really a regular guy. You're Superman." She shifted away from his touch. "I need someone who has a job, and comes home having made the world a slightly better place. Not someone who runs out to make life or death decisions on a regular basis." She sighed. "I'm not big enough to compete with that."
"Mayson, I'm not asking you to compete-"
"I know you're not Clark," she interrupted. "But the fact remains that if I were to be with you long term, I would end up resenting Superman. I can't do it." She searched his eyes, looking for understanding. "Knowing you're Superman has changed the way I feel about you Clark. I think I could love you, but I know I can't love him." She was quiet for a moment. "And I think you knew that, Clark. And that's why you kept pushing me away."
"I'm sorry Mayson." There wasn't much else he could say. What she had just said summed up everything that he had felt about her, but had been unable to put into words.
"Don't be." She smiled weakly. "You need someone who can love both Clark and Superman."
"Don't Clark." She took a deep breath. "I think you should leave." She stood up and started shuffling papers around her desk.
"The deposition…" Mayson slammed her papers back on her desk.
"Do you really think you'll make a credible witness now that everyone knows you've been lying to them?" Hurt and anger blazed from her eyes. But there was also defeat and sadness. She hung her head. "Just leave Clark," she whispered. He made a motion to reach for her, but the look she shot him put an end to his attempts. Quietly, he walked to the door, opened it, and left.
Lois swung her leg over the ledge and landed on Clark's balcony. The climb up the building had not been easy; she had needed to use all her creativity and several muscles she was previously unaware of in order to find her way up. The trip to his apartment was even more difficult, and required the use of three taxis and a hastily constructed 'hooded ruffian' disguise. These precautions were necessary however. Although most of the reporters swarming around Clark's apartment had gone to cover Superman's press conference, there was still a small number camped out by his front door, and she was not about to give them the satisfaction of seeing her travel to Clark's apartment and pick the lock on his front door. What excuse would she have? She certainly didn't want to talk to him. She wasn't ready for that yet. The reason why she was doing this now was because she knew that he was guaranteed to be away from home. What she needed to do was experience Clark and try to understand him without his actual presence confusing things. Why did he keep his life such a secret, why didn't he tell anyone, why create an entirely different person to perform all the things he could do? Lois had pondered this all day at the Planet. For the first time in her life, she hadn't been able to throw herself into her work and forget her personal troubles. Last night she had decided to support Clark, and she would continue to do so. Her personal feelings could wait. Instead, she had spent the whole day in a bit of a daze, trying to piece the Clark Kent puzzle together. Frustrated with herself, she decided to go about her investigation of Clark in the usual way, which always included a little breaking and entering. Before she could really support Clark, she needed to know that he was still the kind gentle man that she knew. That he had a good reason for what he did. She needed to see his place for what it really was. Not only the home of Clark Kent, Daily Planet reporter, but also the home of Superman, noble extraterrestrial.
She walked around the space, examining knick-knacks and personal items, each with a new perspective. She was reminded of the time when she took Clark to his apartment after he had gotten amnesia. He had wandered around in much the same way, lost and confused. All his belongings were strange and bewildering to him. Now, it was Lois who felt this way.
She examined his college football trophies thinking: Superman played football in college. They didn't even win the state tournament. How frustrating must it have been to never play anywhere near your best, to pass the ball off to people who were clearly far less able? How could he have stood that? She paused. Of course, this was Clark she was thinking of. This was the man who was generous, giving, and a team player to a fault. He 'played to play'. Of course Clark wouldn't feel the need to be the best all the time. He would gladly step out of the spotlight and allow someone else make the winning play.
Putting the football down, she walked over to the mysterious wood carved statue that hung by his closet. Where did he say he got it from? Tibet? Indonesia? New Guinea? She couldn't remember. He had been so many places and had a story for each one. What was it like, she wondered, to be able to travel the world with almost no planning, no effort, no thought, just action? Clark could zip across the world in seconds, one moment sitting in his apartment in Metropolis, the other, lying on some beach in Thailand. Then, remembering his testimony last night, she though of how isolating it would be to have to constantly be moving. Building friendships, and then leaving them behind forever, always afraid of waiting too long and being discovered. As crazy as it sounded, Superman gave Clark stability. As long as Superman was conspicuously lifting trains and blowing out oil fires somewhere in the city, all suspicion and attention was off Clark. Opening his closet, Lois flicked through his clothing. She found the secret lever Diana had used on her TV show and watched as the back panel slid out to reveal a cache of Superman outfits, complete with capes neatly hung in a row. Clark had said that he never told anyone about his abilities before. Only his parents knew the truth about him before Diana had publicized his secret. Was that because he felt uncomfortable telling people? Was he secretly ashamed of whom he was? Or was it because he thought it was amusing to fool everyone, including those closest to him? Remembering the strain evident on his face last night, Lois disregarded that theory. Clearly, he was very distressed to be exposed in such a manner. No more understanding than when she entered, Lois sat down by the TV and turned it on.
There he was. On every station, giving his promised press conference. Hungrily, Lois peered at the face of her partner. He was, of course, dressed as Superman. Even though Lois knew the truth, she still had to search his face to see the similarities. Was it just the costume that changed Clark to Superman she wondered? Last night when Clark had stopped the shooter, he had not changed into Superman. Instead, he was clearly Clark, even though he was catching bullets and tying up hostages in less than a second. It was more than the suit, she decided. Superman exuded a kind of confidence that would have bordered on cockiness if he wasn't so capable and polite. His mannerisms were stiffer; he never relaxed and rarely smiled.
Not bothering to listen to the press conference, Lois thought about the attack last night. It had happened so soon after the Top Copy airing. Although it was only one man with a gun, he could have done some serious damage if Clark had not been there. Still, Clark would feel responsible for it. The man had attacked the Planet because Superman worked there. Thinking it through, Lois shuddered. How much more danger were his parents in? They had knowingly sheltered Superman for almost thirty years. And she herself, Lois realized for the first time. She already got in enough trouble for just knowing Superman. How much more trouble would she be in for being close to Clark? Clark knew all this, she realized. He knew the danger that those close to him would be in if the world found out. That's why he worked so hard to distance himself as Superman. That's why he resisted telling people about himself. It was for the protection of those closest to him. The only people who could know a secret of this magnitude, she reasoned, would be a select few who were willing to put up with the danger that Superman brought.
Clark had wanted her to be one of these select few. He had said as much last night. It wasn't cruelty or haughtiness that prevented Clark from telling her the truth, just over-protectiveness. Lois smiled to herself. That was just like Clark. Now, what Lois wanted to know was when he had planned to tell her this big secret. Just how long was he going to wait until he would enlighten her? Did he really think he could wait for another year or so and she wouldn't eventually figure it out? She snuggled down on the sofa and turned the volume up on the TV. She would wait here until he got back home from the press conference. Now she was ready to talk.
It was late when Clark finally returned to his apartment. He was tired. Not so much physically as mentally. The press conference had lasted ages. He said much the same stuff as in the Daily Planet article. He confirmed Diana's "scoop", reiterated his reasons for keeping the public in the dark, and made a petition for the press to leave him alone. He even went so far as to cut them a deal. Superman would remain in the public domain. Anything he did while wearing the suit, they could report. He would give them full cooperation. When he was Clark Kent, however, he was to be left alone. He would give no statements, respond to no phone calls, and refuse any pictures. His private life, he asserted, was of no concern and of no importance to the people of Metropolis.
Wanting to lay a good foundation for this, Clark had spent a good hour after his address answering questions from the media. He still shook his head about some of the questions. It was amazing, what they wanted to know. His travels around the world, his high school and college life, his favorite food, what powers he developed first. He answered as candidly as he felt able, but always refused questions when he felt they were too personal. No sooner than he had called an end to the questions, he had heard a cry for help, a fire in the Metropolis library. Then after that, an earthquake in India. Everywhere he went, he was sure to give the media plenty of quotes and opportunity to snap photos. Maybe, he hoped, the press would be placated for the time being and abandon the stakeout surrounding his apartment. He entered his apartment through the balcony, and spun into his regular clothes. Either by great luck, or by the media actually listening, the crowds outside seemed to have dispersed for the time being. Of course, that didn't mean that more underhanded methods hadn't been attempted. Clearing his mind, Clark began to listen to the sounds in his apartment. Remote recording devices gave off a certain pitch that humans couldn't hear, but Superman could if he put his mind to it…
There were no recording devices, but what was that…? A human heartbeat! Moving as quickly as he could without injuring the intruder, Clark grabbed the mysterious person by her shoulders, and flew them up till their heads were grazing the ceiling. He heard a sleepy yelp and caught a few solid kicks before he recognized her.
"Lois? Is that you?"
"…Clark? What…what's going on?" Blearily, she looked around, as if trying to get her bearings. Slowly, Clark lowered them to the ground.
"I'm sorry I startled you Lois," he stammered, "I thought you were a reporter." She shot him a look. "Well, you know… someone who wanted to talk to me." Again, he realized she fell under that category too. "What I meant was…" He took a deep, calming breath. "I didn't know it was you. And I'm sorry I gave you a start. Is your foot okay? You didn't hurt yourself trying to kick me did you?"
"N-no. It's fine." She gave a small yawn. "What time is it?"
"What were you doing out so late? Had to return another videotape?"
"There was an earthquake in India; it wasn't serious but I was helping clear the rubble, clean up some of the damage, transport the injured, what I usually do."
"Oh, right." She nodded, and started slowly pacing around the room, refusing to make eye contact.
"Uh, Lois?" Her head snapped up.
"Not that I don't enjoy your company or anything, but…what are you doing here?" She continued pacing for another moment, then stopped suddenly, her eyes piercing his.
"I'm ready to talk."
"Oh! Uh…Great!" He wasn't sure where to begin. "Why don't we sit down?" They sat. Lois took in a deep breath, steadying herself. She crossed her arms, looked him right in the eye, and began.
"You lied to me."
A million excuses flew through his head. He could prevaricate. He could tell her that he had never really directly told her something false; he had just led her to certain conclusions. But he remembered his conversation with Mayson today. As much as it had hurt at the time, she was right. There was no Clark Kent as he had presented him. Lois had been partners, friends, and even more with a fictional person. He had lied to her in thought, words, and action.
"Yes," he whispered. The effect was astonishing. Immediately, she relaxed and looked much more comfortable. She even sat down beside him.
"You told me that you were going to tell me the truth. When were you going to do it, and why were you going to wait until then?" Clark sighed. Leave it to Lois to ask the really difficult question.
"I wanted you to accept me for me, not because I was Superman, not because I had all these powers. I wanted us to be together and committed to each other before I was going to tell you."
"Wait a minute, Clark. You wanted me to reject you, and then be in a relationship with the other you which is still really you? Do you know how insane that sounds?" She was starting to get upset; her pulse was climbing, hand gestures becoming more erratic. Leaping off the sofa, she began to pace again. Clark knew he had to rein her back in some way.
"I made a mistake." She stopped, and glanced back at him.
"I went to see Mayson today. She told me that she doesn't like me anymore. Because I'm Superman."
"Clark, as much as I want to start trashing Mayson right now and telling you what a horrible person I think she is, what does that have to do with you and me?"
"She was in love with Clark. Or at least she really liked Clark. Clark only, no superpowers, no saving the world, no blue spandex. Just me. That's what I wanted from you Lois. I wanted you to love the regular guy, not the man in the suit." Lois blushed, and looked embarrassed.
"But what happened, Lois, is that she loved only that part. She couldn't love Superman. As much as I want to be an ordinary guy with an ordinary life, I'm not. That was my mistake Lois. I wanted you to reject the weird part of me, but I forgot that that that part of me is a *part* of *me* and making you choose between the two is a false choice. That was my mistake and I'm sorry. I should have told you sooner. I should have realized that there was more to Superman than a tight suit and a bunch of powers." He hadn't taken his eyes off Lois for the entire speech. The flames had gone out of her eyes. She had sat back down, and was looking at him with an expression something like forgiveness, but not quite… Then he placed it. It was acceptance.
"How did you plan on telling me?" Her question threw him. Was that really what she wanted to know?
"Well, uh, I was going to take you out for dinner. Someplace nice…"
"Always good to butter up the girl before you nail her with the big confession huh?" There was a hint of playfulness about her demeanor. With a little more confidence, he pushed forward.
"Then we would go back to your place-"
"My place?" She raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah, cause that way, when you got mad at me I could just fly out the window to safety. If we were at my place who knows what kind of damage you would do?" She let out a little huff, but her eyes were smiling.
"Then we would talk some more. I wanted you to be relaxed and happy."
"Softening me for the blow you mean," she teased.
"I would start to tell you how much you mean to me. How you've made such a difference in my life ever since I met you." Clark leaned close to her. He looked directly into her eyes. The connection between the two of them was strengthening. "I would tell you that the closer we've grown, the more I've wanted to tell you something about me. I would say that it's not fair to keep misleading you about me. You deserve to know the truth."
"Lois, I love you so much, and love is based on trust. Because of that, I'm trusting you with my life, hoping that you'll accept this part of me, and learn to accept it along with the rest of me." Lois waited, holding her breath. Clark took a deep breath. "Lois, I'm Superma-" He didn't get a chance to finish his declaration. Lois threw herself across the room, landing her lips on top of his. Clark got a little dizzy.
Finally, she broke it off, wearing a huge dopey grin. Clark gave a breathless laugh.
"Gee, if I knew you'd react that way I would have told you a lot sooner." Lois gave him a playful slap.
"The only reason I did that, you dope, was cause I already knew." She paused. "But did you mean it Clark? Do you mean it now, not in some hypothetical future where we've been dating for months and month?"
"What, did I mean that I was Superman? I don't know where you've been this last day Lois, but-"
"No. Did you mean that you loved me?" She looked nervous, self-conscious.
"Yes. I did." This time the kiss was even more intense, if such a thing was possible. They broke apart, holding each other close. Clark stared up at the ceiling, lost in his own joy.
"Mayson's definitely out of the picture then?" Clark smiled up at the ceiling.
"Lois, she was never really in the picture to begin with." There were a beat of silence.
"I love you too."
Lois Lane was floating. In this case, figuratively as well as physically. What was it about flying with Clark that was so different than flying with Superman? More intimate maybe. When she was with Superman, she had always felt the need to be polite, and dignified; to protect his honor or something. With Clark, she could snuggle as close as she wanted, she could talk about anything without feeling silly, she could nag him about his navigation skills, and best of all she could kiss him whenever she wanted to…
"Whoa! Lois, as much as I love kissing you, you're making it kind of difficult to keep a straight line here." His eyes danced at her. Lois gave a long, extended sigh.
"All right Clark, I'll try to contain myself, but is it my fault you're so irresistible?"
"Well, I suppose not. Are you saying that you've finally caved to my country-boy charm?"
"Charm has got nothing to do with it flyboy!" He pretended to look wounded as they landed on the roof of the Daily Planet. This morning, Clark had appeared by her window offering to take her into work. This way, he explained they could avoid the hoards of reporters who were still staking out the Daily Planet. Lois had quickly agreed. Her experience of wading through the mob of people had been limited to only a couple times, but she was not anxious to go through it again. Clark let Lois down and stepped back, spinning into his 'Clark' clothes. Lois froze. What was is about that change, she wondered, that brought back all the lies he had told her? I forgive him, she told herself. I support him, I love him, and that means I forgive him. Maybe if she told herself enough times she would finally remember it.
"So how have the people been taking it at work? I'm sure there's a lot of gossip…" Clark looked apprehensive.
"There's been a pool going around for how long it will take for you to quit the Planet and live off the proceeds of the Superman Foundation." She tried to make light of it, as if the vicious gossip didn't matter. "Also, the current topic of debate is whether you told me you were Superman before or after we slept together. And if it's considered cheating if I slept with both of you, but didn't know you were one person." Clark flushed, looking ashamed, as if it were his fault.
"Oh God Lois, I'm so sorry-"
"It's not your fault Clark." And it really wasn't. "I just wish they were being more professional about the whole thing."
"Actually, in my case I was kind of hoping that they weren't going to be professional…" A ghost of a smile flickered across his face.
"Well I don't mean ambushing you for an interview. Perry's made it very clear that nobody at the Planet will ever get to publish a personal interview of you, so they're not even bothering to try. What I was hoping was that they'll treat you like a colleague, and respect you. I mean it's not that you've stopped being a person now that everyone knows who you are." For this remark, Lois earned another kiss. As she melted into the kiss she remembered why she was standing beside Clark through this mess, why it was she could put aside all the hurt he had caused her. She loved him. More than anything else. After a brief interlude where the world stopped turning, they broke apart. Clark was first to speak.
"We should probably get to work." Lois nodded in response. "Did you find anything about that shooter from the other night?" Together, they started down the emergency stairwell.
"Well, the police came to pick him up a few minutes after you left," Lois began. "But so far, he hasn't said a word; refuses to give his name, or any other information. All he says is that he did it for 'The Cause'. It's like he's been brainwashed or something."
"You think it might be some kind of cult group?"
"Well, maybe. Jimmy's been doing some research into Superman extremists in the past, so hopefully he's dug something up."
"I hope so. We need to find out more about these guys before they try to make their next attack," Clark said grimly.
"You went to see your parents again last night, right? How are they?"
"They're fine. Hardly anyone has come to bother them. I guess they're so out of the way that most people haven't bothered when they can get plenty of material here." Clark held the door to stairwell open for Lois, and they entered the newsroom together. Almost immediately, Clark came to a dead stop, his face pale.
"Clark? What is it?"
"There's Kryptonite here Lois," he whispered urgently.
"In the newsroom? Why would it be here?"
"Maybe someone was trying to catch me unawares." Sweat was beginning to form on his brow, and Lois saw he was growing steadily weaker. He reached into his pocket and brought out a small drawstring bag. Shaking, he brought his glasses down on his nose, and scanned the room. "It's in my desk. Top right drawer." He handed Lois the bag. "Put it in here, it's lead-lined. Try to be discreet."
Lois took the bag, which was much heavier than she expected, and quickly walked over to his desk, trying to ignore the stares of her coworkers. Although they had not immediately attracted attention when they came in, people were starting to notice Clark hovering by the entrance. Opening the drawer, she saw a flash of sickly green before grabbing it and stuffing it in the bag, pulling the drawstring tight. Clark joined her at his desk, looking better already.
"You okay?" she asked.
"Yeah, that was pretty powerful stuff though, to affect me from that far away."
"Well it was a good thing you thought to bring this." She handed the small lead-lined bag to Clark. "Where did you get it? I should see about getting a robe made for me."
"Lois," Clark started. He looked embarrassed, a blush rising up his face. "I didn't mean that comment. I was-"
"Upset." She exhaled, clearing her head. "I know. Don't worry about it Clark. We both said enough stupid things that night to cancel each other out." The words were for her benefit as well as his. Cursing herself for bringing up her hurt feelings, and reminding herself that she vowed to support Clark, she forced the incident from her mind. They both smiled hesitantly, their surroundings momentarily forgotten. The hum of the newsroom faded as they stared into each other's eyes. Then the spell was broken by the voice of a fellow reporter.
"Hey Clark!" His voice was overly chipper, and immediately, Lois knew he wanted something.
"What do you want Finkelstein?" she asked sharply. No one was going to interrupt her time with Clark and get away with it.
"Relax Lois! I just wanted to talk to Clark here!" Clark put a steadying hand on Lois and turned to Ralph.
"What is it?"
"Well, just so you know, Perry's told us that anyone who tries to go against the whole Superman/Clark Kent press coverage deal gets a two week suspension, no pay. But I was thinking that if you want to help a guy out… Maybe you could let me know when you're heading out to a new crisis of some kind. You know, so I could get a head start on the competition." At this, Lois nearly blew her top.
"I can't believe you Ralph! Clark is an employee of the Daily Planet. What makes you think you can use him to get a good story??!!! Do you have any idea how low this is? Dredging in the sewers of reporting tactics to get ahead? I can't believe you would have the nerve-"
"Whoa there! Easy Lois. I'm going okay? No need to have a fit!" He backed slowly away, in an exaggerated posture of surrender. "By the way, nice article in the Whisperer. I guess you have your hands full, eh Kent?" Lois stood frozen on the spot.
"What article?" she asked.
Clark looked down at the copy of the Whisperer in his hand. Its headline glared back at him: DUAL IDENTITIES=DUAL LOVE? On the front page, there was a picture of Clark comforting Mayson in her office the other day. Although it had been platonic at the time, it did look very intimate out of context. Paired with that picture was one of Lois climbing up the side of his apartment with the caption reading "Secret mistress comes for a night's stay." The story in itself was ludicrous. It was mostly conjecture and extrapolation without a single reputable source, yet Lois was taking it particularly badly. She had not stopped pacing the conference room and was cursing the Whisperer very inventively. Looking at the picture of Mayson in tears splashed across the page for the world to see, Clark felt heavy with guilt.
"Mayson must be going through hell," he murmured. Lois paused mid-rant, and turned towards him, eyes flashing.
"Well, it's just that she doesn't deserve all this attention. This whole thing has been difficult enough for her without everyone thinking we're romantically involved." He looked at Lois, who looked like she was ready to impale him with her pencil. "It's just that I feel bad for her." Lois' face darkened. "But, I'm sorry I interrupted. Go back to your um… cursing. Or whatever."
"Oh no Clark!" she said with false sweetness that didn't reach her eyes. "By all means, let's talk about how hard this is for *Mayson*. I mean she knew you…what, a few months? I'm sure you two got *really* close in that time. I'm sure she told you all sorts of intimate, secret stuff. Stuff she had never told anyone else before, stuff that she really trusted you with." Lois was starting to warm up to her subject, growing more agitated and she went. "I'm sure that you came to her multiple times as two different people. Pretending to not know what the other one said. Making an idiot out of her. I'm sure she was completely torn, having to decide which one of you she could love, and which one was just a crush. I'm sure she just fell apart when you were killed by gangsters, and *rejoiced* when you were miraculously brought back to life. Oh, but wait… You never really *were* dead were you?" Clark winced at this accusation. Lois plowed on, her eyes starting to glitter.
"And you know, Mayson must've been really confused too, because whenever she wanted to have a serious conversation with you, you just ran off with some lame excuse. She probably thought it was because you weren't really interested in her, even though it was really because you had to go hold up a bridge, or swallow a bomb, or whatever. Yeah Clark, you're right. *Mayson* must be going through hell. Let's talk about her." At this, Lois collapsed in a chair, tears streaming down her face. Clark was stunned. He should have known this was coming, but he always pictured it going differently, with Lois storming out on him, leaving behind a trail of rage induced wreckage. He had not imagined this. For the first time, Clark truly realized all that he had put her through. He had reduced Lois to tears.
"Lois…" he couldn't think of what to say.
"No, Clark, it's okay." She sniffed, and slowly inhaled shakily. "Last night, you said all the right things. You said all the things I needed to hear in order to forgive you, but it'll take me a while to do that. This article just brought back all those memories of Lex, and being on the cover of all those tabloids after the wedding. I know you need a friend right now, that you need support, and I'm going to do that. But I still need time to get through it all." Her watery eyes burned into his. "I love you Clark, and I want to be with you." Clark was overwhelmed with the love and support Lois was showing him. "It's just going to take me more time to get through all this than I thought." She paused. "You really hurt me you know."
"I know that now Lois. And I'm sorry. I should have been more sensitive to your needs. I put you through a lot in the last year and a half. I guess I just thought…" He trailed off. "Well, half the time I guess I wasn't really thinking at all." She gave a small chuckle.
"Well, that's pretty obvious." She lifted her head and looked at him. A gentle smile reached her lips as she reached up and stroked his hair.
"So," Clark hesitated. "Where does that leave us?"
"I just need some time. I still love you, and I still want to be with you. You just have to be understanding. Can you do that?"
"Lois, I can do anything for you. And I will." She continued stroking his hair, and the spell that had been broken ever since Ralph's interruption misted over them once again.
Suddenly, as if mentally shaking herself, Lois stood up. "We need to get to work on this shooter stuff. And we need to find out who would've planted Kryptonite in your desk. Jimmy's been tracking down as much information as possible on the shooter and Superman extremists so let's see what he's got so far." With a determined look on her face, she gathered up the copy of the Whisperer from the table and dumped it in the trash. "Let's get to work partner!"
Lois sat amid a mass of papers, exhausted. Although Clark probably could have gone through these in seconds, he had been busy most of the morning with Superman emergencies. Although it was a lot easier to let him run off now that she knew the reason, it still made it difficult for her to be stuck in the conference room, sifting through papers. Her reporter's instinct was screaming at her to grab her bag and dash off after him, but she knew that if she even tried to follow Clark, she wouldn't be able to get very far. There was still a hoard of reporters swarming around the Planet ready to pounce if she tried to leave the building on foot. For the time being, she was trapped here. Clark walked into the conference room, straightening his tie.
"Sorry I had to rush off Lois." He pulled up a chair and picked up some of the papers.
"How did it go?" she asked.
"Pretty good. I got everyone out in time, and I was able to put out the fire pretty quickly so there's limited damage to the building. But I had to spend twenty minutes answering questions from reporters. You'd think an apartment fire would be routine, hardly worth a headline."
"Well, I think people are going to take any statement they can get for now." Hesitantly, she continued. "Did they say anything about the article in the Whisperer?"
"Yeah, but I didn't want to go into it too much. I just told them that the article wasn't accurate and that my personal life was of no concern of theirs." Lois bit her lip. Although she agreed with Clark's policy of no personal information given to the press, she was less optimistic than him about the whole thing working.
"Clark, do you really think it's going to work? You know, the whole keeping your identities separate thing?" Clark frowned.
"Maybe not right away," he answered. "I'll have to drive the point home. Any pictures taken of me will be mysteriously ruined, recording devices will malfunction, and after all, I am a very difficult person to follow." He grinned playfully at her. "I'm sure they'll get the hint in time."
"Yeah. I'm sure they will," she whispered, but she couldn't shake the feeling that it wasn't going to be that easy. Hadn't a reporter been able to take a picture of him and Mayson without him noticing?
"So anyway," Clark continued, changing the subject. "Have you found anything about our elusive shooter?"
"Not much," Lois began. "Here're the mug shots the police took of him the other night." Lois passed him the pictures. "So far he's refused to talk, refused his right to a phone call, and refused to even speak to the lawyer they gave him. Here's the research Jimmy dug up on Superman extremists in the last year. For the most part they've been underground, probably afraid to do anything that might make you angry." Clark's mouth tightened and she jumped in to clarify. "Not that you would do anything violent or hurtful, it's just that they don't know you." Lois glanced at a picture in the file. The picture was one that Jimmy has taken at the time of the heat wave. About to put it to the side, her attention was grabbed by a man standing in the corner of the shot. "Clark, take a look at this guy," she said, handing him the picture.
"He looks like our shooter." Clark pulled down his glasses and peered at the picture.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm trying to make out the tattoo he has on his forearm. He was wearing a jacket so I didn't see it the other night." Clark picked up a pencil and paper, and drew a design at super-speed, then passed it to Lois. Slightly bemused at this sudden demonstration of ability, she looked at the paper. The symbol was like an upside-down triangle, with a stylized G in the center.
"Clark, this is really similar to the crest on your suit."
"I know." Clark nodded grimly, and opened the door to the conference room. "Jimmy!" he called. Jimmy walked over to the conference room.
"Hey CK! I've hardly seen you all day, been busy?"
"Yeah, I'm sorry about that but I need you to find any information you can about this design." He passed Jimmy the paper. "Especially where it might have been used as a tattoo."
"Sure CK, I'll get right on it." Jimmy exited the room just as Perry entered.
"Hey you two, how is the investigation coming along?"
"Perry, we may have just gotten a break! We found this picture of our shooter with a tattoo that Jimmy's checking up on." Lois passed the picture to Perry. "Hopefully, it will lead us to his organization."
"Well that's great! I just hope that-"
"Lois," Clark interrupted, "was there a piece of paper wrapped around that chunk of Kryptonite you pulled from my desk?" Perry looked shocked.
"Maybe, I didn't really get a good look, I just wanted to shove it in the bag."
"I'm pretty sure there was." Clark reached into his pocket and pulled out the drawstring bag. "Can you get it off for me? There might be a clue." Sometimes the thick-headedness of her partner astounded her.
"Clark! Why do you still have that? Why didn't you throw it into the sun or something? I can't believe you're keeping Kryptonite in your pocket!"
"What Kryptonite? What in the Sam Hill are you two talking about?"
"Someone put a chunk of Kryptonite in my desk this morning, Chief. Lois put it in this lead lined bag for me, so it's safe for now." Clark turned to Lois. "Can you get the paper for me?"
"All right." She took the bag in her hands. "Just fly off to the roof or something where this thing can't hurt you." Clark shook his head.
"No way Lois. Someone put the rock in my desk, which means they probably have inside help. I'm not leaving you alone with this; whoever put it there might want it back."
"But Clark, it'll hurt you!"
"Then I guess you'll have to be fast." Lois wanted to smack that crazy grin off his face. How could he be so carefree about all this? Then again, she couldn't see any other way around it. She knew that if she didn't do it, then Clark would probably take the bag and dump it out anyway.
"Okay, here goes." She drew in a deep breath; Clark tensed in anticipation of the pain. She pulled the bag open and almost immediately, Clark let out a gasp. Looking over at her weakening partner, Lois fought the urge to run over and help him. She needed to concentrate on her task and finish as quickly as possible. Prolonging this operation would only prolong his pain. She grasped the rock, and pulled it out of the bag. Sure enough, there was a piece of paper wrapped around the rock and held by an elastic band. Removing the paper, and taking a quick look inside the bag to make sure there were no other clues, she stuck the Kryptonite back inside and closed it up. Clark was hunched over in his seat, pale and shaken.
"Clark, are you all right son?" Perry looked concerned and was bending over Clark
"Yeah, I'm okay," he muttered. "I haven't seen Kryptonite this strong since I first encountered it in Smallville."
"Allergies," Lois muttered. Clark gave her a weak smile. "Well at least we have this chunk now. And we won't be opening the bag again." She glared at Clark.
"I don't know if that's going to cut it Lois," Perry said. "Whoever put this Kryptonite here wouldn't just leave it to chance that it would harm him. My guess is that they have a stash and we haven't seen the last of it."
"What?!" Lois was scared. From what she'd seen, this stuff could really harm Clark. Even though he was starting to get his color back, he still looked a little weak, and that was only after a couple seconds of exposure. What would happen if someone decided to use it for a longer period of time?
"I think he's right Lois," Clark said shakily. "People who try to kill me usually go about it a bit more carefully." Clark turned to face her. "What does the paper say on it?"
Lois opened the crumpled paper, and read the brief message. "It just says: 'A Gift' but that symbol, Clark; the one with the G? It's written on here too."
Clark crumpled the sheet of paper in his hand and smoothed it out again. His vision abilities had quickly come back from the Kryptonite exposure, and he had scanned the paper for any other clues. No luck. All they knew so far was that a fanatical anti-Superman group with some dangerous weapons had been responsible for two attacks in the last few days. The only known member of this group was locked away in the police station, refusing to answer questions. Because this group had never publicly identified themselves, investigating them was going to be very difficult and would take a long time. Days of stakeouts and dead ends loomed ahead of Clark. He heard the door to the conference room open and looked up to see Jimmy enter wearing a small frown.
"Hey CK, this symbol you gave me; you said it was used as a tattoo, right?"
"Yeah…" If Jimmy were Superman, he would have flown up in the air over his excitement.
"I knew I had seen it before somewhere! I know what tattoo parlor designed it! It's called Rosetta Studios; I saw a guy getting it done in there." Lois gave a smirk.
"Jimmy what were you doing in a tattoo parlor?" Jimmy squirmed under the stares of Lois, Perry, and Clark.
"I was out with a bunch of guys, and I uh… lost a bet." He blushed. "Anyway, as I was waiting for my turn, the guy ahead of me was getting this design put on his forearm." Clark's spirits lifted. At last, a solid link to this group. Now all he and Lois had to do was go around to the tattoo parlor and ask a few innocent questions… He stopped. He couldn't do that anymore. Thanks to Top Copy, Clark Kent was nearly as recognizable as Superman, and he could hardly afford to have the group catch wind of what he was onto. He made sudden decision.
"Jimmy, can you go back to that parlor and maybe hang around a bit? See who comes and goes and especially pay attention if anyone else gets one of those tattoos?" Lois let out an exclamation and turned to Clark.
"Clark, what are talking about? That's something we can do, you remember, Lane and Kent: 'The Hottest Team in Town'?"
"Lois, think about it," Clark explained. "Every reporter in the city is on my tail right now, and I'm sure the press coverage is just as heavy on you." She grudgingly nodded. "Hardly anybody knows that Jimmy's close to us, he'll be able to blend in and get some real information." Lois looked torn. Clark sympathized. She was used to fronting investigations, diving in headfirst to get information. He had taken that away from her.
"Fine," she grumbled. "But you better get us some good information Jimmy, and let us know what's going on." Jimmy grin threatened to overtake his whole face.
"No problem guys, I've seen you in action enough to know what to do."
"You'll do a good job son, I'm sure of it." Perry patted Jimmy on the shoulder, and Jimmy turned to exit the conference room. He had almost reached the door, when Lois suddenly called him back.
"Hey Jimmy, when do we get to see the tattoo you got?" Jimmy's face instantly heated up.
"Um… No offense Lois, but it's not exactly in a place I'll be showing you anytime soon." With that, he scuttled out of the conference room, avoiding any more comment regarding the whole scenario. Perry gave a great guffaw, and even Clark couldn't help but smile. Leave it to Jimmy to lose a bet and end up with a tattoo on a, um… sensitive area.
Jimmy hadn't been gone long when a very nervous messenger knocked on the door and hesitantly opened it.
"Uh, Clark? There's a package here for you." He held out the envelope as far away from his body as possible and shrank back as Clark stood to take the package. Clark flushed. Ensconced safely in the conference room for most of the day, he had forgotten how the rest of the world had started to treat him. Perry, Jimmy, and Lois still saw him as Clark Kent, but everyone else now saw him as the most powerful being on the planet. Flaming with discomfort, Clark quietly thanked the man, who hurriedly left the conference room. Lois, thankfully ignoring the messenger's behavior, leaned across the table to get a better look at the brown envelope.
"What is it?" she asked. Clark pulled down his glasses and used his X-ray vision to look inside so as not to tamper with the package.
"It's a videotape," he announced. "No fingerprints, no notes, the tape's not even labeled."
"How-" Perry began, but quickly realized what Clark was doing.
"Well, open it," demanded Lois. "Let's see what's on the tape." Obediently, Clark ripped open the envelope and stuck the tape in the VCR. The three of them stood in front of the TV to watch.
A person appeared on the screen. They had a black ski mask pulled over their face with no holes for eyes or mouth, and the camera was zoomed in close. The only background visible was a concrete wall that looked like part of a factory or warehouse. The person's face filled the rest of the screen, but the lack of distinguishable features made for an eerie visual. This person looked like a blank slate, no personality or soul. Only purpose. They didn't even know that the person was female until she began to speak.
"Superman," she began, in clear ringing tones. "By now you've no doubt gotten our messages. We are the Guardians, protectors of Metropolis." There was a pause. "Your presence here is not wanted. Unlike the rest of Metropolis, who are too afraid of your power to disobey you, we alone are willing to take a stand against your tyranny. We alone will purge Metropolis of the pollutants that inhabit her." Bile rose up Clark's throat. Who were these people? "I have sent you this videotape to inform you that the Guardians have declared war on the great Metropolis newspaper known as the Daily Planet. This newspaper has willingly given you a livelihood while you have paraded your alien-ness for the world to see. Although they had no obligation to do so, they have willingly given you a refuge for over a year with no force or coercion on your part. This makes the Planet far guiltier than any forced generosity from others too weak to resist. Hence, the Daily Planet is our primary attack target. Let everyone be warned. Any wishing to be spared this attack are advised to cut off all relationships with the Planet immediately and leave Metropolis." She paused, her blank face staring out of the screen "The battle has begun, Superman." The screen went black.
The faint hum that came from the empty TV was the only sound in the room. Lois' eyes remained riveted on the blank screen long after it had gone dark. The racing pulse of her thoughts circled around in her head. The Daily Planet! How could they? It was a symbol of truth, of sticking up for the little guy. How could they have chosen it as a target? Why would they choose it as a target? Clark cleared his throat, breaking the silence.
"Chief, I'll give you my official resignation by the end of today." His face was ashen. "I'll call a press conference and cut off all communication with the Planet. Maybe-"
"Clark, no!" Lois exclaimed. "You can't just leave! You can't…" Lois trailed off. Never had she imagined something as terrible as this happening. What did that group think they were playing at, separating the hottest team in town?
"Lois is right son," Perry added. "Leaving the Planet won't solve any issues with this 'Guardian' group. If you leave they'll probably just come after us anyway. As far as these guys are concerned, we've already committed our crime." Clark was noticeably agitated. Lois watched as he paced around the room.
"Well what do you expect me to do Chief? These 'Guardians' sent me this tape for a reason. Maybe it was a challenge, maybe they were just trying to taunt me, I don't know!" He sighed. "Whatever their reasons are, I have to do something about it. I can't just passively let this group plant bombs in the Daily Planet basement and…" He trailed off, a vacant look on his face. He must be hearing something she and Perry couldn't, Lois thought.
"Clark?" she asked.
"Ow!" Clark hands flew up to protect his ears, wincing in response to her voice.
"Sorry," she blushed.
"It's okay," he muttered distractedly. "Your voice is just kinda grating when I'm…" With a vague gesture he pointed to his ears, lapsing into silence. Grating! She huffed. She would show him- But before Lois got a chance to come up with a suitable retort, Clark had vanished from the room, creating a cyclone of papers. He returned barely a second later, smelling strongly of chemicals and smoke and carrying an unidentifiable lump of smoldering something. He blew on it, cooling the lump and placed it on the table. Even without the smoke and heat interfering her view, the remains were so burned and melted that Lois couldn't be entirely sure that it was what she thought it was.
"Is that a…"
"A bomb," Clark confirmed. "It was planted in the Daily Planet basement."
"No Comment! Can't you people understand that!" Lois squirmed her way through the mob of reporters that was still gathered by the Daily Planet. Although Clark had said that press gatherings around his apartment had decreased since his public appeal for privacy, the media had not given up hope that one of his more loose lipped colleagues would spill some juicy details. Finally, Lois was able to reach the doors of the building and worm her way inside as the Planet's newly beefed up security held the mob back. Wasting no time, she walked across the lobby and jabbed the call button for the elevator. Impatiently, she tapped her foot while waiting for the elevator car to come.
Yesterday's failed bombing attempt had given them no new clues to finding the Guardians. They had taken the remains to Dr Hamilton, but he had not been able to tell them anything useful. The bomb design, he had said, was commonplace, used by terrorist groups and radicals. Although Lois did not understand the mechanics behind the explosive, Dr Hamilton had told her and Clark that anyone with a basic understanding could manufacture one like this. The materials were not difficult to get, and the setup was actually rather simplistic. Another dead end, she sighed. It seemed as if this group had made secrecy its ultimate
goal. The failure to turn up any clues had only resulted in more stress for Clark. He remained by her side the entire evening, and insisted on checking through her apartment thoroughly when he brought her home. She smiled as she stepped into the elevator and pushed the button for her floor.
Although she would never tell him, she found his concern over her safety rather… sweet. Even though she was accustomed to dealing with criminal threats, that videotape yesterday had put her on edge. Having Clark concerned gave her a sense of security, even if he couldn't be with her the whole time. Although he wanted to stay with her all last night, the reality was that the Daily Planet was the official target. That included Lois; but also included Perry, Franklin Stern, and the building itself. He had to ensure that they were safe as well. Lois insisted that he go and check on everyone else who needed him. Reluctantly, he agreed. After he had tucked her safely in her apartment he left, leaving explicit instructions for her not to go out, to leave the door locked and the window latched, and to call if she even suspected something might be going on. Don't do anything tonight, he had told her, I'll come and pick you up in the morning.
Except he hadn't.
On very rare occasions, Lois actually did what she was told. She had gone to bed almost immediately, and hadn't stirred until she woke up this morning. This time, it was Clark who didn't hold up his end of the bargain. After waiting as long as she felt she could, Lois left a note for him and made her way to the Planet solo. She had a lot of work to do today. Clark was probably stopping floods in Mongolia or something and would come back later. She wasn't about to bother him with her need to get to work.
In retrospect, it might have been easier to call for him. Battling the reporters outside her apartment had been bad enough, but she couldn't even get close enough to get a decent parking spot in front of the Planet. It was here that she learned that the Guardians had also sent a tape to the mayor's office and LNN, so now all of Metropolis knew about the threat to the Daily Planet. This of course meant that the news networks could sic as many reporters on the Daily Planet as they wanted without violating Clark's privacy request. Because the Guardians had publicly announced their vendetta against Superman and not Clark, the whole scenario could be considered public domain. But Lois wasn't about to let a bunch of reporters hinder her doing her job. This just meant they had to solve the puzzle sooner, she decided. The elevator dinged, and Lois stepped into the newsroom. The atmosphere was dismal to say the least. Many employees had decided to take sudden 'vacations' and a couple had even handed in their notice. The remaining loyal employees were justifiably terrified of the consequences of their choice.
Looking around, she found her absentee partner dozing with his head cradled in his arms. The tension that she didn't even know existed left her body. He was safe. She briskly walked over to his desk and shook him awake.
"Clark!" There was a groggy grunt in response.
"Lois…? Is that you?" Slowly, his head came up. He blearily blinked the sleep from his eyes. Then suddenly realizing where he was, Clark gave a groan. "I didn't fall asleep did I?" A look of panic flashed over his face. "Is everyone all right? Did anything happen? I can't believe I fell asleep like that…" He looked around the newsroom and absorbed the staring faces. "Lois, why is everyone staring?"
"Well, the fact that you're hovering a foot in the air might have something to do with it," she said with some amusement. With a thud, Clark returned to his chair looking much more alert, and even a little embarrassed. He looked terrible, Lois observed. There was a rough growth of stubble over his face, and shadows under his eyes.
"You look terrible," she said. Clark gave a hollow grin.
"No really Clark, were you here all night?" Clark scrubbed his face with his hands in an attempt to wake himself up.
"Not the whole night," he began. "I alternated my time between here, Perry's place, Franklin Stern's place, and your apartment. I figure that if they attack it'll be one of those places." He sighed. "Of course it could be some poor guy who drives the delivery truck for us or the janitor. There's just too many people Lois, I can't protect them all!" Lois put a calming hand on Clark's arm.
"Clark, when was the last time you slept?" she asked. "I mean really slept, not just a nap at your desk." Clark shrugged this question off.
"I don't need as much sleep as you do."
"Yes, but you still need some! Clark, you can't keep going like this. You're heading for a train wreck. Ever since Diana Stride aired her show you've been going nonstop trying to solve everything. Now you're about to collapse from exhaustion! You need to take time for yourself Clark, time for your parents and-" She stopped abruptly, not wanting to finish her sentence. And time for me, she added silently. Furious with herself and with Clark, she plowed on. "Do you have any idea how worried I was when you didn't show up this morning?" Repressed fears that she hadn't acknowledged before were making their way to the surface. "You could've been lying in some alley sick with Kryptonite poisoning or held captive by the Guardians for all I knew! There's a bunch of psychos out there who are desperate to kill you, and you're just making their job easier by wearing yourself out."
"What am I supposed to do Lois?" The strain of the situation carved deep lines in his face. "I can't just go home and pretend none of this is happening!"
"No you can't. But Clark, sometimes even the star player needs to sit it out for a bit and get his strength back while the other players keep the game going." Clark relaxed, and chuckled weakly.
"Lois Lane spouting sports metaphors? Now I know the world has come to an end."
"Very funny Kent, but I'm serious." Clark put on a sober face.
"Alright Lois, what do you suggest we do?" Happy that her partner was finally ready to see reason, Lois launched into her plan.
"You are going to go somewhere quiet and get some sleep. I am going to get another look at the videotape the Guardians sent us. There may be some clues there that we missed before, what with that distraction in the basement."
"Lois, don't you think 'distraction' is a bit of an understatement?" Ignoring him, she continued.
"Then I'm going to call around and see if I can get a copy of the tapes sent to LNN and the mayor and see if they were sent the exact same ones we were sent or not." Lois was about to grab Clark and push him towards the stairwell when Jimmy entered looking as if he had recently crawled out of a dumpster. He caught sight of the two of them, and his face lit up.
"Lois! CK!" He jogged across the room and joined them by Clark's desk, vibrating with excitement. "You'll never guess what happened!"
"Jimmy, you look awful!" Lois exclaimed. Jimmy glanced down at his appearance and absentmindedly brushed off his sleeves.
"Yeah, I ran into a bit of trouble, but you guys have to hear what I found out!"
"All right Jimmy," Clark said. "What did you find out?"
"Well I went to that tattoo place I was telling you guys about. I hung around at the coffee shop across the street for a while checking who came in and who came out, and that's when I heard about the Guardians and the bomb in the Planet. That really sucks, do you have any more leads on these guys?"
"Yes Jimmy," Lois interrupted impatiently, "you're our lead."
"Oh! Right! Well, I had been there for a while when I notice this girl who walks in and she's got a hood over her head and she's slumped over as if she doesn't want to be recognized. I kinda meandered over to the tattoo place, and I see she's arguing with the owner, something about price and a previous agreement. Anyway, it's getting pretty heated when the girl pulls up her sleeve and shows the guy that G tattoo we saw before-"
"That's great!" Clark exclaimed. "Can you give me a physical description of her? Maybe we can find out who she is and-"
"I followed her."
"You followed her?" Clark shouted. "Jimmy, why would you do that? Don't you know how dangerous that was? These people are willing to kill anyone in their path."
"You and Lois do it all the time CK."
"Yeah but I'm invulnerable, and Lois is…" Lois glared at him, daring him to continue. "Well, Lois is Lois." Lois rolled her eyes.
"Don't pay attention to Clark, Jimmy, you did a good job. Where did the girl go?"
"She went all the way over to the South Side; you know the old LexChem plant? It seems like the Guardians have set up headquarters there. I snuck in after the girl and-"
"You snuck inside the secret headquarters of a terrorist group? Jimmy!"
"Looks like you learned from the best." Lois patted Jimmy's shoulder and gave Clark a cheeky grin. "C'mon Clark lighten up, it was you that told him to find out all this stuff in the first place." Clark breathed in deeply, and exhaled slowly.
"Okay Jimmy, what happened next?"
"Well they had all kinds of anti-Superman posters and slogans plus some really scary stuff set up there. I tried to poke around a bit more, but then a bunch of people came in so I had to hide out in this big empty barrel. I was there for a really long time too. I could hear everything they were talking about, and who they all were. It was kinda like a cult commune or something. They kept talking about their Leader, and everyone was so serious about following his instructions. It was really creepy." He shuddered. "Anyway, they finally left the room I was in and I was able to sneak out. I came straight here."
"That's great Jimmy," Clark said, standing up and fiddling with his tie. "I'll just go over there now and-"
"Wait! CK!" Jimmy interrupted.
"Um, well I've never actually seen it before, but Kryptonite is green, right?" He looked apprehensive.
"Well they had this big set-up with machinery and stuff, and a lot of glowing green. Except it wasn't a rock, there were these dart things, and some kind of paste. They must've been experimenting with it." Clark paused.
"I'll have to risk it." He sai, determination set in his face. "Jimmy, I need you to go over to see Dr Hamilton and ask him if he knows anything about scientists experimenting with Kryptonite." Clark paused, taking in the appearance of his friend. "But you might want to get cleaned up first."
"Sure CK!" Jimmy beamed and wandered over to his desk. Lois, however, was not through dealing with her asinine partner.
"Clark are you insane? Don't you remember the strength of the chunk that turned up in the newsroom yesterday? They must have more of the same strength and who knows what they've done to it to make it stronger? And look at you! You're already dead on your feet; you need to get some rest!" Clark shook his head impatiently.
"Lois, I can't just let them continue their attacks. I'll rest after I've taken care of all this. Sooner or later, they're going to cause some serious damage." Lois was growing tired of this display of male ego.
"No you can't just let them continue Clark, but that doesn't mean that you're going alone." She stepped in front of him. "Take me with you. I'll deal with any Kryptonite, and you can handle any of the bad guys who try to stop me. That is if I leave any of them for you." Clark hesitated.
"Lois you'll be safer at the Planet with all the security guards and-" She rolled her eyes.
"Clark, so far our security guards have let in a nutcase with a gun, and a guy with a bomb. They're not exactly the equivalent of the Secret Service. Either you take me with you or I follow you on foot, and don't think I won't do it." She glared at him furiously. To her surprise, his face broadened into a grin.
"Alright, then. I'm assuming you want to leave via the roof?"
"That would be my suggestion." So they did.
From above, the factory *looked* harmless. It was merely a large concrete toad squatting on the street. But there was a sinister air about the place. Maybe because its former owner and architect had left a trace of his aura that still oozed out of the cement. That same aura that she still felt whenever she remembered what she had almost done with him, how he had almost had her. Lois drew herself close to Clark for comfort.
"Darn," he muttered to himself.
"What is it?" Lois asked.
"This place is like a fortress," he explained, frustrated. "There's lead in practically every wall, and I think they're using some sort of sound proofing to keep me from finding anything out."
"So you can't see anything?"
"Well I can see a bit through the windows, but nothing too helpful."
"Then I guess we have to do this the old fashioned way. Take us down Superman!" Clark obediently lowered them to ground level. Alighting from his arms, Lois charged towards the door of the chemical plant and started work on the lock.
"Lois, wait!" Clark called to her. She waited as Clark changed out of his suit and joined her by the door. "We don't have a plan or anything. I have no idea of what's inside there, it could be some sort of trap, or-"
"Clark, there probably is a trap." She interrupted. "But you need to learn to live on the edge a bit. Take some chances! Go with the flow! You can't plan for everything in life. Now are you going to let me sit here struggling with these lock picks or are you going to be the gallant gentleman and burst this door open for me?" Clark shook his head with a bemused expression. For a second, Lois thought he would refuse, but then he motioned her to the side, easily turned the knob and broke the lock. With all the panache of a gallant gentleman, he held the door open for her.
"After you my lady." Lois smiled to herself as she passed through the door. What had gotten into that partner of hers?
The room they entered had once been the reception area for shipping and receiving. The plant had been closed shortly after Lex's suicide, and the building was already showing its age and disuse. The floors were stripped bare, and the furniture that had been left behind was tattered and full of dust. The room had an overall smell of must and the lightless atmosphere was suffocating. None of these were what she noticed first though.
All over the walls, on the ceiling, and on every flat surface were plastered anti-Superman posters and slogans. They ranged from the typical 'Superman Go Home' to the grotesque and obscene. Lois tried not to gag.
"Clark…" she glanced over at him. There was a hard set to his jaw as he steadily took stock of room, looking over each poster carefully with a methodic manner she could never manage.
"There's a door over there." He motioned to a door that she had not seen before due to the amount of signage covering it. Together, they walked across the eerily quiet room. Not daring to break the foreboding silence, Lois reached out and grasped Clark's hand, tacitly offering him support. The pain in his eyes seared her as he looked over to her. She squeezed his hand as she followed Clark through the door.
They hadn't taken two steps into the next room before Lois heard a whistle of air pass her and Clark dropped to the floor. Bright lights suddenly filled the space and Lois squinted to see their attacker holding a small dart shooter in his hand. Before she could move to get at him, hands grabbed her from behind and twisted her right arm painfully, bringing her to her knees. She struggled to free her other hand from Clark's grasp, but his hand was frozen shut around hers and she couldn't break free. Panting from the effort she exerted and with the throb coming from her twisted arm she faced the man with the shooter once again.
"What did you do to him?" she demanded. He stared at her coldly.
"It's a fast acting paralytic designed to instantaneously target the spinal cord, severing all muscle control." Cocking his head, he man stared dispassionately at Lois struggling to remove her hand from the grasp of her partner. "He must've tensed his hand at the moment of puncture, which is why it has remained closed around yours. It's rather like a poetic version of a ball and chain, isn't it?" This man frightened her in a way beyond the words he spoke. Although she had encountered many criminals before, this one was beyond the usual soullessness. Although he spoke intelligently, Lois could sense a deadness behind his eyes. Wildly searching for a way out, Lois struggled to keep him talking.
"How did you get it into his system? I thought only Kryptonite could harm him." His smile sent chills up Lois' spine.
"We have been experimenting with Kryptonite for quite some time now Miss Lane. We have found many uses for it. Most recently is this." He walked over to a table, and picked up a jar of full of a green glowing paste. "This paste will dissolve into the skin easily enough for a normal person such as you or me, but if Superman comes into contact with someone who has used it, then it is as if there's a chunk of that rock right in front of him. He can never see it coming, and so the next rescue he travels to could be his last."
"You sick bastards-" Lois' epithets were cut off by a blow delivered from her unseen captor. Her head hit the concrete as she fell, and the world swam around her.
"You idiot!" The man was yelling. "She is not to be harmed until we hear from the Leader. You know that as well as I."
"I don't like those smart remarks," a voice grumbled from behind her.
"So? Let her talk all she wants, it won't change her situation." The man crouched down beside Lois. "You'll be happy to know Miss Lane; that we won't need to put this invention to use anymore as we now have Superman in the palm of our hand." He looked upwards to her unseen menace. "Take them to the containment room. We'll wait for instructions." Now there were many hands grabbing her and lifting Clark's limp form. Still woozy from the smack she had received, they were easily able fend off any of her weak attempts at defense. She had a vague sense of passages and doorways until finally she was dumped on the floor of what she assumed to be the 'containment room'. The door was slammed shut leaving her and Clark alone.
The containment room was probably once a small research lab, or perhaps a large office. Stripped of its furniture, it was difficult to tell. Lois concentrated on her breathing while willing the room to come into focus and fighting the nausea that was welling up inside her. Finally she felt able to sit up, although her hand was still securely clamped inside Clark's. It didn't hurt; she just couldn't break his grip. Looking around their prison, she took stock of the situation. They were in a room with no windows, and only one door which was probably locked or barricaded if not both. Clark was lying on the floor in a heap, and she had no idea if the paralytic would wear off on its own or if it required an antidote. Also, she didn't know what condition Clark would be in of he did wake up on his own. The man said Kryptonite was involved so who knew how sick he would be. In short, she was trapped in a room with the mother of all headaches and an unconscious and potentially ill superhero in a building full of fanatics whose only scruples were dependent on the commands of an unknown leader. The situation looked hopeless. Little did these fanatics know that hopeless conditions were what Lois Lane thrived on. At least that's what she kept telling herself.
Clark swam into consciousness aware only of the supreme discomfort of the concrete floor he was laying on. Charging into the LexChem plant, he had prepared himself for all sorts of pain. Kryptonite in all its possible manifestations, then after his powers had been robbed, he had thought the Guardians would torture him, breaking bones, electrocution, and stuff. But the cold hard flatness he was currently being subjected to brought about a discomfort he never thought possible. Clearing his throat, he found his voice.
"Live on the edge a bit, eh Lois? Take some chances?"
"Clark, you're awake!"
"What was it you said? You can't plan for everything in life?"
"That's right Mr I-have-rules-for-everything. You needed to taste the freedom of spontaneity for once. Don't you feel liberated?"
"Lois I can't move."
Although inexplicable paralysis would normally frighten him, he felt safe and calm simply because Lois was there.
"They injected you with a paralytic."
"Oh." Clark experimentally tried wiggling his toes. No luck. However, he could turn his head around. He craned his neck to see Lois sitting beside him. A much better view than the blank wall he had previously been staring at. "I think it's wearing off." She smiled down at him.
"That's great Clark! Soon we'll be getting out of here!"
"I'll think of something. And if I don't, you will." Lois' face was set with determination. That look of pig-headed optimism reminded Clark once again of how much he loved her.
"I love you Lois. So much." She gave him a sad smile.
"Funny how I have to wait for you to be paralyzed to hear it."
"Lois…?" She sighed with frustration.
"It's just that you've been going nonstop since this whole thing started. And I understand that, I do. But…" She blushed furiously. "I feel so stupid saying this."
"Saying what? Lois, what's wrong?"
"We've just started something between us Clark. And it seems like we haven't had any time together to… explore that. You've been so busy trying to protect everyone and nab the Guardians which is important, but it's just that it doesn't leave much time for the other important stuff." Her blush increased. "Listen to me! I didn't know I could be this needy-"
"No Lois, you're right." Thinking over the last few days, Clark realized all the times she had been there for him and he hadn't been there for her. "And I'll make it up to you Lois, I promise. When this is all over-"
"When what is over Clark? When we nab the Guardians? When the media attention dies down?" Her eyes blazed at him. "Because you know that there's just going to be another group that could take their place. And the media are never going to leave you completely alone Clark. It's never going to be all over so you need to say what you want to say now and do what you want to do now." She was right. He strained to reach her face with his hand, but his arm refused to move. He gave a frustrated grunt.
"I wish I could touch you Lois."
"You can Clark. With your words." She looked straight into his eyes, urging him to open up to her. Taking a deep breath, Clark plunged into the depths of his heart.
"I love you Lois Lane. More than I ever could've hoped possible." Drawing strength from her gaze, he continued. "When Diana Stride first aired her program I thought my life was over. I thought that whatever relationship we had would die when you saw that I had lied to you about all those important things. But you were…amazing. You stuck by me. You supported me even when I didn't support you. I was off trying to be Superman and Clark Kent all at the same time; trying to hold my life together and trying to keep the people I care about safe. You stayed beside me and showed me a love that was more compassionate and understanding and perfect than I could ever think of. I want to show you that love Lois. You deserve that and so much more than I could ever give you." Slowly, the use of his limbs was returning to him. Clumsily, he stroked the hand that he held in his. Her eyes sparkled with tears. The good kind.
"Clark, you have shown me that love. Every time you get me my coffee in the morning, and every time you smile at me in that special way. Every time you listen to me go off on one of my rants, never criticizing, always accepting. You show me that love in the way that you understand me as no one else does and the way that I can trust you like no one else. It's all the little things and all the big things you've done for me in all the time we've known each other that I see your love." She bent down and kissed him gently. Clark yearned to pull his arms around her, but his sluggish limbs refused to cooperate. Lois snuggled beside him on that cold floor and Clark listened to the sound of her breathing.
"Has it been that bad?" she asked, breaking the silence. "Having everyone know that you're Superman?" Adjusting to her train of thought, Clark mulled the question over.
"Parts of it have been good," he explained. "I didn't like lying to you, and now that I can be 100% truthful, it's much better. And that's the same for my friends too. I don't have to make stupid excuses, or pretend to run away whenever there's trouble. Also, it's nice to not have to hide certain things about myself in public anymore. I don't have to pretend to need a cab, or to heat up coffee in the microwave. I can be more myself."
"But I lost something when the truth came out. Before, I fitted into society. I was accepted as a person like any other. Now, I'm always being set apart. The world isn't ready to accept Superman as a person. Everyone with the exception of you, Perry, Jimmy, and my parents treats me with such distance. Like they're afraid to get close to me or something." Frustration bubbled up inside him "How am I supposed to function when everyone refuses to look past my 'oddities'? Will I ever get to at least pretend I have a normal life?" Lois opened her mouth to speak, but Clark cut her off before she could say anything. He didn't want to talk about it anymore. There was nothing she could do to change the situation and he wasn't in the mood for empty platitudes. "I think I might be able to stand if you'll give me a hand." Understanding Clark's pain, Lois dropped the previous conversation.
"Okay." Clark's limbs moved slowly and awkwardly as he tried to wrestle himself off the ground. Leaning heavily on the wall, and with the support of Lois, he was able to rise up on his feet. He took a few shuffling steps and glanced reassuringly at Lois.
"I'm fine," he said. "I think I just need to walk it off a bit."
Suddenly, the door banged open. Clark swiveled around, trying to discover the source of the noise. This violent movement was too much for his off-balance body and he fell to the ground as two people rushed in, pointing guns straight at Clark and Lois. Cursing his inability to respond, Clark struggled to stand up.
"I wouldn't try that Superman," a voice called from the doorway. Glancing over to the entrance Clark saw a petite female stride into the room, commanding attention. Her rust colored hair surrounded a hardened face that had deep wrinkles etched into it although she was probably only in her late thirties. "The paralytic we injected you with also robbed you of your powers and although we are not to harm Miss Lane, if you risk her life by trying to attack us we will have to kill her." Clark stilled. Slowly he became aware of a dull ache coursing through his bones. Did she have Kryptonite?
"Your voice…" Lois said.
"Yes Miss Lane, I was the one who spoke on that videotape you received. I see that you're more than just a typical dimwitted female. Which makes it all the more surprising that you and your alien partner here raced down to this plant as soon as your junior spy reported back to you. Did you even consider the possibility that it could be a trap? Did you think that we didn't know that he had followed me here? I see that legends of your impulsivity have not been exaggerated at all." The Kryptonite wasn't as painful as his other recent exposures, but it clouded his thoughts, making it difficult to follow the conversation. Had they really been expecting him and Lois? That would explain the well organized ambush they came across. But Lois was speaking again; he forced himself to pay attention.
"…knew we were coming here? What are you planning to do with us?"
"Nothing for the time being Miss Lane. We just needed a clear way as we took our justly revenge on the Planet. With you and Superman out of the picture we can continue with our plan. After that… well I won't spoil what we have planned for the alien."
"What about Lois?" Clark asked, forcing the ache from his body. The woman smiled down on him, sending chills through his body.
"Rest assured Superman; as long as you behave yourselves Miss Lane is perfectly safe. I will not give orders for her to be harmed." The woman nodded to the guards. The one in front of Clark swooped down and cuffed him across the jaw. Pain flared as he saw a flash of green clasped within the man's hand. Lois cried out and rushed towards him. Taking advantage of the distracted pair, the two guards and the woman left the room, slamming the door closed after them. With the removal of the Kryptonite, Clark immediately felt better. He pulled himself into a sitting position and felt the tenderness around his jaw. It wasn't broken, but it did feel swollen and bruised.
"I'm all right Lois," he murmured. "One of the guards had Kryptonite, but it's gone now so I'll be all right."
"Are you sure Clark?"
"Yeah." He reached up and stroked her cheek gently. "See? Even the paralytic has worn off." Lois put her hand over his. They smiled hesitantly at each other, an exchange of emotional support. Then Lois suddenly switched into reporter mode.
"That woman. She was the Leader Jimmy was talking about." Clark frowned.
"Are you sure Lois? Wouldn't Jimmy have said something if the woman he was following turned out to be the Leader?"
"But they knew he was watching the whole time Clark. They probably deceived him into thinking the Leader wasn't actually there."
"Or it could mean that the Leader really wasn't actually there."
"Clark it all fits." Lois was starting to work herself up as she always did when presenting a theory. "She's the only woman we've seen so far in a primarily male organization, yet she was bossing those two guys around and talking about giving orders. That must mean she's pretty high up. She's older than all of the other members we've seen so far. Also, she was the one to speak on that tape. It makes perfect sense!" she finished triumphantly.
"Okay let's say she is the Leader. How does that help us capture them and escape?" Lois deflated.
"It doesn't really. But maybe if we figure out the hierarchy then we can find a way to manipulate it or something." Clark looked at her doubtfully. "Okay, maybe not, but there has to be something we can do to get us out of this mess!" Silence descended on the pair as they searched the barren room looking for a way out.
A bang and scuffling noises from the ceiling drew their eyes up to the air vent. Muffled grunts could be heard, and a shower of dust fell as the grill popped out of its place and crashed to the floor. Two feet appeared followed by an entire body falling through the hole and landing awkwardly on the ground. The interloper got up and shakily brushed himself off; then turned to give a victorious smile to Lois and Clark. Clark had never been more surprised or glad to see a person in his life.
Lois stared stupidly at the sudden intruder.
"Jimmy what are you doing here? Didn't we ask you to go see Dr Hamilton?" Okay, maybe that was a bit of a stupid question, but it had been a massive shock to see her coworker magically drop from the sky and Lois was still adjusting. Jimmy looked a little offended.
"Relax Lois, I did go see him, okay? Once I was there, I decided that maybe it wasn't such a smart idea for you two to run on in without some backup, so I came over here."
"Oh, were the police too busy or something?"
"Lois," Clark said gently.
"And you didn't need to do anything; we were managing fine without you!"
"Lois, we're locked in a room in a building full of armed radicals. I hardly think we were 'managing fine' before." He was right. Why was she behaving so irrationally?
"Okay, fine! We weren't doing fine. We were actually doing very badly. Does that make everyone feel better now that I've admitted it?"
Jimmy glanced at Clark, ignoring Lois' outburst. "I guess you two are stuck here huh? No super-powers CK?"
"No. You were right Jimmy; they had been experimenting with Kryptonite. To make a long story short, I have none of my normal abilities." Jimmy grinned.
"Then I guess it's a good thing I brought these." Jimmy gestured to a black duffle bag that had fallen from the ventilation system with him.
"What's in there?" Jimmy smiled smugly, unzipped the bag and brought out a midsized gas canister and three gas masks.
"Dr Hamilton gave it to me. It's some kind of highly potent knock-out gas. These masks protect us, but anyone else will be rendered instantly unconscious. Pretty cool eh?"
"Yeah it is, but how are we going to get close enough to use it?" Clark asked. "If any of the Guardians catch of glimpse of us they'll shoot, and I can't protect us from bullets right now." Jimmy slumped.
"I didn't think of that. Maybe we could steal some LexChem coveralls and fool them long enough to get close or…" Lois wasn't paying attention. Furiously thinking, she gazed around the room. There had to be something they could do. There always was… Then her glance caught the air vent that Jimmy had popped out of.
"That's it!" she whispered.
"Diana Stride!" she exclaimed. Jimmy and Clark still looked confused. Giving an exasperated sigh, she explained further.
"At the hospital, Diana pumped some kind of gas into the ventilation system that knocked everyone out. If we release the gas into the air vent then the Guardians will be knocked out without them even knowing what happened!" Clark looked suitably impressed.
"I knew there was a good reason I loved you Lois."
"What, only for my ability to pull crazy plans out of a hat? I would have thought it would have at least something to do with my incredible charm and generous personality." She slowly sauntered over to him. Clark's grin stretched.
"Well, there is that." He bent down and kissed her. "And there's also-" Jimmy cleared his throat awkwardly.
"Uh, guys? Can we concentrate on getting out of here please?"
"Oh. Right." Lois watched Clark shake his head slightly to clear it as he bent down over Jimmy's arsenal. He picked up a gas mask and handed it to Lois. She easily slipped it over her face and Jimmy did the same. Clark looked at his confusedly.
"Haven't you ever worn one of these before?" The Daily Planet had a biannual drill that required employees to be familiar with these masks in case of terrorist attacks.
"Umm, no. Gas usually doesn't affect me so I always just loosely pulled it on and pretended to breathe through it. I don't like the smell of rubber." He explained sheepishly. Tsking slightly, Lois helped Clark into his mask, pulling the straps tight and making sure it was secure. Inside each mask was a radio headset that allowed Lois, Jimmy, and Clark to talk to each other without the mask interfering.
"Okay Clark," Lois said, hefting the canister up in her arms. "You'll need to give me a boost so I can get up to the air vents."
"When did we decide that you would be the one to do it?"
"Clark, the vent is too high up for any of us to reach it alone, and unless you can fly up there, one of us will have to stand on the other's shoulders." Clark grumbled. "I'm the smallest so it makes sense that I'm the one on top."
"You always did like to be on top." Lois smiled in acknowledgement of the old joke.
"That's right Kent, so get ready to hoist me to the roof." Jimmy gave Lois a leg up and she sat on top of Clark's shoulders. Clark swayed under the additional weight.
"Lois, you're *heavy*!" Jimmy winced visibly
"Ooo! CK, not smooth!"
"Watch it Kent! Just because you love me that doesn't mean you can criticize my weight!" She grinned wickedly. If Lois had been able to see Clark's face right now, she was sure it would've been bright red.
"I didn't mean… i-it was just a shock because I'm not used to lifting heavy things…Not that you're heavy Lois, but you're heavier than I'm used to and…" And he said she babbled!
"Clark, if you don't stop babbling and help me get up here, I'm going to end up sticking my shoe in your eye and trust me, that will *hurt* a lot more than you're used to."
"Okay Lois," Clark replied sheepishly.
"All right. So I'm going to stand on your shoulders now. You'll need to brace me so I don't fall, okay?"
"Okay," he repeated. Lois slowly shifted her weight and rose up to a standing position on top of Clark's shoulders. Strong hands clasped her ankles, steadying her balance. She stuck her head through the hole of the air vent and forced her jittering stomach to calm down. Although Lois was used to doing anything to get a story, this kind of acrobatics was still nerve wracking, especially with a man who just recently discovered what 'working up a sweat' really meant.
"We are never doing this again," she muttered into her headset. "As soon as you can fly again Clark, you're going to be the one crawling into air vents."
"Lois, if I could fly I would also be able to round up every one of these people without any gas or air vents."
"Right." Lois twisted the valve of the canister and set it inside the vent. A sharp hiss was the only clue that the gas was being released. It was completely colorless so the Guardians would not be able to suspect anything until it was too late. The container slowly emptied and Clark brought Lois down to the ground.
"Jimmy, do you know how long the gas will take to make its way through the building?" Clark asked.
"Well Dr Hamilton said the gas dispersed quickly and that only a small concentration was needed, but I don't really know how long it will take to knock everyone out."
"Okay, here's the plan," Clark began. "We pick the lock on the door. Whatever guards they may have stationed there are probably out by now. Then we make our way *carefully* throughout the whole plant. We'll need to do a complete sweep so-"
"Actually CK, we won't need to search the entire building. Most of it is boarded off. That's how I got in. I broke into one of the quarantined areas and then followed the vents. But the Guardians will only have people in a few of the rooms." Jimmy searched in his bag once again, pulling out a coil of rope.
"We can tie them up with this until we can get the police in here." Lois walked over to the door and pulled out her lock picks which had luckily been untouched by the Guardians. She struggled for a moment, then let out a triumphant "Ha!" as the lock popped. Carefully opening the door, she peered out into the hallway.
The two guards who had burst into the room earlier were lying sprawled across the floor unconscious. Lois bent down and pulled one of the guard's guns from his hip. Spotting a little metal box, she grabbed it too and passed it to Clark.
"For safekeeping," she explained. He took the Kryptonite from her with a nod of acknowledgement. "Did you want a gun?" she asked.
"Lois! You're not seriously going go charging through the building with a loaded gun are you?"
"Of course not Clark." She expertly emptied the clip. "I'll just use it for show. So did you want one?" Clark gave a small laugh.
"Lois I barely know which way to point that thing. I doubt I'd make a very convincing show."
"Then I guess you'll have to rely on me to protect you." She grinned.
"I guess I will."
The trio made their way down the hallway, peering into rooms. It was as if the building had been deserted. There was evidence of dormitories, a kitchen, even a couple of small labs, but they found nobody until they returned to the same room where Lois and Clark had been ambushed. Unconscious bodies lay sprawled across the room. Lois, Clark, and Jimmy walked amongst them separately, tying the prisoners with Jimmy's rope. Once it was certain that every group member was securely restrained, they opened as many doors and windows as they could to ventilate the room.
Lois looked around as they were waiting for the gas to dissipate. She had never gotten a good look at what appeared to be the central room. There were long tables covered with scientific apparatus that was probably used for the group's Kryptonite experiments. No Kryptonite was visible though and judging by the ease with which Clark was moving about, it had all been put away in lead lined containers or something.
The room was purely utilitarian, with no scrap of the grotesque signage in the entrance room. It was probably used for research and planning only. This made it all the more odd that there was a TV set up in the far corner of the room. Pulling her mask off, Lois made her way over to the TV. It was tuned to LNN. A reporter stood in front of a mass of rubble making a live report of some sort. As she neared the TV she was able to pick up on what the reporter was saying.
"…this scene of untold destruction. As you can see behind me, the building has been completely destroyed by the blast. There are still many believed to be trapped in the rubble." Something about that shot was familiar to Lois. She could only see part of the surrounding buildings, but there was something… "Emergency workers are trying to find as many people as possible, but the window of opportunity is steadily narrowing." Clark and Jimmy were starting to walk towards the TV as well. Lois searched through her memory to find what building it was that the reporter was standing in front of. Oh no. It couldn't be… "Although no one has taken responsibility for the attack, officials suspect it to be the work of terrorists after a well publicized vendetta was issued in the form of a videotape yesterday afternoon." It wasn't… "However all this is purely speculation. The cause of the explosion is still unconfirmed at-" It was! "the Daily Planet."
The Daily Planet!
Her airway had closed, her heart had stopped beating, it was all she could do to keep standing. The Daily Planet had been more a home to her than anywhere else in all her life. And now it was gone. The destruction that had occurred not even a year ago was nothing in comparison to what she saw now on the TV. How could there be any survivors in all that rubble? The three of them watched spellbound as the report continued, detailing the attack. No one had claimed responsibility for the bombing yet, but Lois knew that the Guardians were to blame for it. This is what they wanted her and Clark out of the way for. And they played right into the plan. They were too late to stop it from happening. Why did she have to be so impetuous? How could she have run over here without a second thought?
"We need to get over there," Clark said, interrupting the silence.
"Clark, can you do any-"
"No! I can't do anything!" he snapped. "You don't think I would be over there right now digging through rubble if I could?" As quickly as he had heated up, he cooled. "We need to be over there even if we can't physically do anything because that's where we belong. With the Daily Planet." Jimmy nodded along with him. Lois took a deep breath.
"Okay," she whispered. Clark gave her a long look, and then turned to Jimmy.
"Jimmy, I need you to go find the nearest payphone and call the police. They can come and take care of everyone here. Lois and I'll wait here and make sure no one escapes."
"Sure CK," Jimmy said, his voice husky. Quickly, he turned and left the room. Lois turned to Clark, questioning his directions. The Guardians were securely tied up. Even if they regained consciousness, it was unlikely they would escape. Why had he sent Jimmy away? One look in his face told her all she needed to know. They fell into each other's arms, and Lois let her sobs flow freely into his chest. They drew strength from one another, each soothing the other's grief. It felt so safe, being crushed in Clark's arms. She drew in a deep shuddering breath, bringing herself under control. Clark pulled back slightly, and looked straight into her eyes.
"It wasn't your fault," they both said simultaneously.
They both tried to smile, neither of them really believing the other.
"Lois…" he trailed off. Suddenly, his lips descended on hers, filling up all corners of her thoughts. It wasn't a soul scorching kiss like those they had experienced before, nor was it a dizzying, mind-numbing kiss. Instead it was a deeply comforting kiss, giving them both new strength. Pressing harder, Lois drew herself deeper into its force. The beginnings of passion were bubbling inside her, as she forced herself further into their embrace. She tightened her hold on Clark as they—
"Ah-hem!" came a voice from the shadows of the room. A little man wearing an old fashioned suit and nervously clutching a bowler hat emerged into the light.
"I'm so sorry to interrupt," he continued, "but I'm in need of some assistance and I believe you two are the ones who can help me." Lois and Clark awkwardly moved apart. So much for a romantic interlude.
"And you are…?" Clark asked.
"Oh! Yes, I'm H.G. Wells, I'm a time traveler of sorts and I've made it my personal interest to protect the Utopian society that will spring from your descendants. In order to ensure that Utopia exists, it is of the utmost importance that your relationship results in blissful happiness and that Superman will continue to save lives and fight for truth, justice and the American way. Unfortunately, recent events have made it impossible for that to happen."
She shouldn't believe this. It wasn't rational, it didn't make sense. And yet… There was a sense of déjà vu. Something familiar about this situation…
"Have you been here before?" she asked the man. H.G. Wells shuffled his feet a little embarrassedly.
"Well there have been several kinks along your timeline that have needed ironing out… You never remember much of the encounters so it always seems as if it has never happened."
"How many times?" she demanded. He drew himself up to his full height, looking stern.
"It would be impossible to determine. Time is a very fluid medium, and a solved problem now could result in twenty more down the road, or erase some entirely. What matters now Miss Lane, is that your happiness is in jeopardy."
"What do you mean?" Clark demanded. "Lois and I love each other and-"
"I beg your pardon Mr Kent, there is nothing wrong with the relationship you and Miss Lane have at present, what is wrong is the destruction of the Daily Planet."
"Oh." Clark said quietly.
"You see; the staff at the Daily Planet are among the few who will ever be able to accept you as a person rather than strictly as Superman. If time is allowed to continue the way it is, I'm afraid life will become very grey for you Mr. Kent. You will be unable to find employment elsewhere that does not attempt to prey on your marketability. Your social circle will shrink; you will barely go out in public as yourself. Eventually, you will slip into a depression that even Lois cannot bring you out of. The love you two share is special indeed, but even that can be tainted by certain events in life." Clark looked morosely over at Lois. Was this the future that they had to look forward to?
"What can we do to fix it Mr. Wells?" Lois asked. "There has to be some way to put all of this right.
"You're right Miss Lane, there is a way," he spoke triumphantly. "I've analyzed the turn of events, and I've decided the only way to make things right again is to go back in time and make it so that Clark's identity is never discovered." Lois frowned.
"How will that change things with this Guardian group? They might not blow up the Planet, but some of the other things they've been developing are really dangerous. Can't the Guardians use these to destroy Superman just as easily?"
"Perhaps they would Miss Lane; if they were operating under their own will."
"Whose will are they operating under?" Clark asked.
"Their Leader, as they call him, is none other than Lex Luthor."
"What?" Lois paled. Lex was in prison, yet he had still managed to harm them. Would they ever be free?
"Yes, it's correct. Mr Luthor founded the group shortly after Superman's arrival. It was a way for him to sway public opinion of Superman without getting his hands dirty."
"That sounds like him," Clark said grimly.
"He is one of the viler criminals you two have come up against."
"He won't let the Guardians make a move unless he's sure that it will succeed. He wouldn't want to risk such a valuable asset," Clark said.
"That's correct Mr. Kent. When your secret identity became public, it was the chink in your armor he had been waiting for. If your identity is never discovered, the Guardians are never called into action, and the group eventually disintegrates." Lois was barely listening to the conversation. A million things were suddenly making sense to her. The terribly blase nature of the first few attacks were suddenly explained. They were never intended to succeed. It was just Lex playing cat and mouse with them. Preying on their fears, and spurring them on to move more impetuously once they finally got a solid lead. Also, it explained the suspicious lack of attack on her. Lex had probably given orders for her to remain unharmed. He probably had some kind of plan for her after Clark was taken care of. This also explained why the Guardians would choose the Daily Planet as their target over Clark's parents or other personal relations. Lex had probably viewed his previous attempt to destroy the Planet as a failure, therefore requiring him to target it first.
"Miss Lane?" Wells was peering at her, with a concerned expression on his face. "Are you all right?"
"Yes," she murmured. "I'm fine." Clark placed his arm over her shoulders and drew her close. She leaned on him for support.
"So what's going to happen Mr. Wells?" Clark asked.
"I've arranged everything. All I need to do is take you and Miss Lane and drop you off in time to prove Diana's broadcast false."
"How are we going to do that? Her footage is pretty irrefutable."
"Don't worry about that Mr. Kent, everything is arranged. Once I dropped you off, your memories will rewrite themselves, and you will know what to do."
"Does that mean we won't remember anything that's happened? I won't remember that Clark is Superman?"
"I'm afraid not Miss Lane. It is important that the time flow is changed as little as possible. You can't remember anything from this encounter."
Lois looked at Clark.
"I've just gotten used to knowing you for who you really are. I don't want to go back to the way things were before." Clark looked into her face, and she could see the war that was going on behind his eyes.
"Lois, these last few days I've realized how amazing it is to be completely honest with you. I wouldn't want to trade that for anything." Clark cupped her face in his hand. "But we have to think of the lives of all the people at the Daily Planet. And think of the future we'll have together if we let this continue. Aren't a few more years of suffering worth it if we can be happy for the rest of our lives? I know that I would have told you the truth sooner or later."
"But Clark, I don't know how much longer I could've put up with you lying to me all the time. I always knew you were lying even when I didn't know what it was about." They both turned to Wells, silently asking for affirmation that they were about to do the right thing.
"I can't make any guarantees," he began, "But I can tell you that things have a way of always working out between the two of you. No matter the obstacles." Lois sighed. It was less of a guarantee than she wanted, yet…
"All right," she said. "Let's do it then. But Clark…"
"When you've forgotten everything else from this, try to hold on to one thing… 'Tell Lois the truth'." He smiled and repeated after her.
"Tell Lois the-" ***
Clark was in the elevator again. Riding up to his doom. He remembered this. The terror that engulfed him. Having his biggest secret exposed on television. Panic rose in his throat. What should he do? How should he handle this?
Then there was a nudge in his memory. Something about a hologram…with lasers. His mother? Slowly the panic subsided. He had a plan. Everything was going to be fine.
The elevator opened and he caught a glimpse of Lois among the mass of people staring at him. She looked beautiful, as always. It frustrated him to no end that he always had to be running off on her. Always lying to her. No wonder she was mad at him. He frowned slightly. It was as if he was remembering a dream…Wasn't there something he did with her? Or something he told her? Was supposed to tell her? The thought faded.
The hologram! He forced himself to concentrate on the task at hand. If he didn't prove to everyone that he wasn't Superman then… something would happen. Clearing his throat, he began.
Herbert George Wells decided that he deserved a rest. Clark Kent was now giving his press conference to the people of Metropolis with the hologram of Superman smiling merrily down on the people. It had been hard work clearing this problem up.
It was not difficult to pose as Martha Kent's art instructor and teach her some rudimentary laser techniques. She was a smart woman, and quick to catch on. Little did she know that when he said light was the art of the future, he was speaking from experience, not academic optimism. It was a little trickier to ensure that the eccentric cameraman's battery would die at the precise moment of filming Clark changing into Superman. But with the use of some helpful technology from not too far in the future, he was able to pull it off.
He lowered himself into a chair in the conference room, allowing a groan of exhaustion to escape his lips. All of those tasks were child's play compared to the most difficult one of all: removing no less than thirteen hastily scribbled 'Clark Kent is Superman' notes hidden around Lois Lane's desk. He could only hope that he had gotten them all.
Lois glared at her partner across the chessboard. She had him, she was sure of it. Clark leaned over and moved his bishop four spaces diagonally, then sat back.
"Checkmate!" he crowed. "Pay up Lois!" Lois searched the board for a way out. There was none, of course. Crud. It had been a while since she had played chess, but she still thought she would be able to beat Clark. Apparently there was a lot more to her partner that met the eye.
"How about we make it best three out of five?" she asked, adding in just a hint of girlish flirting. Clark shook his head adamantly. "Or winner takes all in the next game?"
"No way Lois. I won fair and square, now pay up!" Men were such boys, Lois grumbled to herself as she fished in her coat pocket for the twenty she knew she had stuck in there earlier in the day. Her fingers felt paper, but it wasn't the worn, leathery texture of money. Instead, it was the sharp crackle of stationary. She brought her hand out; revealing a hastily folded note that looked fresh despite its messy appearance.
"What's that?" Clark asked curiously. She shrugged. Who knows who could've put it in there? She carefully opened the note, making note of the crease marks in case it might matter later. The note was simple and short. 'Clark Kent is Superman' it read. Lois snorted. That theory had been soundly disproved tonight. Whoever had written it had obviously… She paused.
The note was written on her stationary that the Daily Planet had provided.
And it was written in her writing.
Suddenly, the cascade of memories was unleashed. Memories of everything that had happened before H.G. Wells had stepped in were suddenly returned to her. The aftermath of Diana's expose, the Guardians, Wells' explanation of why they had to change the past and… That rat! He had taken all her notes from around her desk! The next time she saw him, he was going to have to do some serious explaining.
"Lois…?" Clark was still looking at her with a concerned expression on his face. "Are you okay?" She realized that she had been quiet for a while now, just clutching her note. She nodded dazedly, and then collected herself. Making a sudden decision, she strode over to her desk, and punched in the number for Inspector Henderson.
"Henderson? This is Lois Lane. I want you to meet Clark and me by the LexChem plant with some serious back-up. You're about to take down an extremely dangerous radical group and we're going to get the exclusive." Abruptly hanging up, she turned to face Clark. She bent down and kissed his supremely bemused expression tenderly. "I love you," she said. She heard a sharp intake of breath. Then she kissed him again. Straightening up, she summoned him into action.
"We need to get up to the roof," she told him. "You're going to be flying us to LexChem, and I want to get there before Henderson has packed everyone away." As she dashed up to the stairwell, she muttered to herself. "I don't care what H.G. Wells says, I am not leaving your life up to 'the flow of time'."
Clark shook his head, trying to make sense of what had just happened. After everything they had gone through. After all the hurt feelings and lies and… And she just went and… Wow. He could still feel the force of her kiss on his lips. How was it that his most desired dream had suddenly came true? And then that crazy speech. She wasn't talking about H.G. Wells the dead writer, was she? And what was going on at LexChem?
Wait a minute. Had she just said he would *fly* them there…?
"Lois, wait up!"