By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org> and Tank Wilson <email@example.com>
Submitted: December 2007
Summary: "PLANET REPORTER KILLED IN TERRORIST ATTACK" Lois wakes up to find her husband dead, and there to comfort her is... Superman? Is this a nightmare, or is something sinister going on? A multiauthored story by Wendy Richards and Tank Wilson.
A Tank and Wendy Fundraiser Challenge Fic.
PART ONE by Tank
Lois fought her way back to wakefulness. She didn't know what she'd been dreaming about because she didn't remember it, but it must have been pretty great if she was this reluctant to wake up. As she stretched, she kicked back the covers and let her hand flop over to the other side of the bed. It was empty. Her head snapped around and noticed the vacancy there. The sheets on that side of the bed were cool to the touch. He must've had to leave hours ago for them to be that cold.
Even though she hadn't been sharing a bed for that long, she had a hard time getting used to waking up alone, without her husband lying next to her. Lois had known when she married Clark that this could and would happen, and she had come to accept it... logically. It was just that ever since they'd gotten married Lois had grown to like waking up next to a handsome, strapping specimen of manhood. A specimen who loved her as much as she loved him. She'd come to like it a lot. Often it was only Clark's special abilities which allowed them to make it to work on time, as they found waking up and getting out of bed didn't always follow one another in quick succession.
Still, she couldn't begrudge those mornings when she had to face the dawning of the new day by herself. It was part of who he was, and she loved him for it. The world had its hero in Superman, and Metropolis had a model citizen and top notch reporter in Clark Kent, but she had it all. Superman, for all his majestic powers, was the most selfless and compassionate man she'd ever met. He was an alien from another planet who was easily the most 'human' being she could have ever known. Clark Kent was the countrified charmer. His easygoing manner and honest good humor made friends quickly. And it didn't hurt that he was drop dead gorgeous. Two incredible men rolled into one, and that one man had fallen in love with her... her, Lois Lane, warts and all. She still didn't know how she'd gotten so lucky. Maybe Clark was just a karmic form of payback for all the 'federal disasters' she'd had to endure in the past.
Finally, dragging herself out of bed, Lois made her way into the bathroom. Clark or no Clark, she still had to get ready for work.
Lois took another sip from her second cup of coffee. A glance at the clock on the wall brought a frown to her lips. If Clark didn't get home soon, she'd have to leave without him or she'd be late. It wouldn't be good for both of them to be late. She could always use the 'meeting a source' excuse, or better yet, Clark would come in with the story on Superman's latest outing. She was just about to head into the living room and turn on the news to see if there was any word about where Clark might be when she heard the all-too-familiar whoosh that signaled the return of her husband.
She hurried into the next room and saw the familiar red and blue clad hero of millions standing in the middle of her living room.
"So, where have you been?"
Her voice died away as she was thrown by the look on his face. At first, he seemed confused by her question, but apparently chose to ignore it. Instead, he seemed ill at ease. He wouldn't meet her eyes. It may have been her imagination but Lois would've sworn she saw the glint of a tear in the corner of one eye. It scared her. "What is it? What's wrong?"
He took a step and clasped her hands in his. "Oh, Lois, I'm so sorry for your loss. I know words are hardly adequate at a time like this, but I want you to know that if you need anything, you can call on me... any time."
Lois took a step back from the spandex-clad hero. She was sure her confusion was clearly written on her face. "What's going on here?" She took another breath and was about to demand an explanation for his strange behavior when she saw that 'look' come over his face. He was hearing someone who was in need.
"I'm sorry, Lois, I've got to go. Remember, if I can help in any way, be sure to let me know."
For a moment, she thought he was going to lean in and kiss her, but instead he retreated quickly and left the room in a blur of primary colors. She didn't know whether to be mad or scared. Why was Clark acting so weird? She let her gaze sweep the entire room. Was it possible that they were under some sort of surveillance and Clark was acting remote and strange to throw off some uninvited peeping tom?
It was then that she spied the partially-crumpled newspaper on the floor next to the fireplace. Her eyes grew wide as the bold sixty-point headline jumped out at her. She snatched the paper from its resting spot on the floor and smoothed out the creases. Her breath caught in her throat as the words became easily readable.
"PLANET REPORTER KILLED IN TERRORIST ATTACK"
She didn't need to read the accompanying story to know who the headline was referring to. A quarter-page picture of her husband stared out at her. The shock at seeing the headline quickly passed and was replaced by confusion as she began to read the details of the article. It turned out to be a straightforward account of the incident. There had been an attack at City Hall the other day. A band of slogan-spouting crazies had stormed a news conference the mayor had been holding. Several shots had been fired, wounding two of the mayor's aides, but there had been only one fatality. Clark Kent, the Daily Planet reporter who'd been covering the press conference, had taken a stray bullet in the chest and had died instantly at the scene.
Lois let the newspaper drop from nerveless fingers. She didn't understand what was happening. Why hadn't she heard anything about an attack on City Hall? Why hadn't she been there covering it with Clark? What was the whole thing with Clark Kent supposedly being dead? She'd just seen him a few minutes ago, in their living room. Yet he'd acted very strangely. Not at all like someone who was supposed to be her husband.
Without actually thinking about it, she soon found herself hurrying back up the stairs to the bedroom. She stared hard at the empty bed. She wasn't in it. Before she could stop herself, she pinched her arm. "Ow."
She sat on the corner of the bed, her mind a jumble of confused thoughts and emotions. Why would Clark be pretending to be dead? He'd had to fake his own death before, but why didn't she know about it? Why hadn't he discussed it with her? And why was he acting so strangely? Was someone watching her?
The doorbell roused her from her distracted musings and she moved quickly back down the stairs to see who it might be. When she peered through the spyhole, she saw Perry and Jimmy standing outside. The expressions on their faces were grim. She opened the door and let them in. Maybe now she'd get some answers.
"Perry, Jimmy, come in."
Lois was immediately enveloped in a fierce hug by Perry. "Oh darlin', I'm so sorry." Jimmy stood off to the side, fidgeting. He looked very uncomfortable. "We all thought the world of Clark, and we'll all miss him terribly." Perry released her and seemed startled when he looked at her. "Lois, honey, you aren't planning on wearing that, are you?"
"What?" She glanced down at the outfit she'd chosen earlier. She had on a pink blouse and a knee-length red skirt. It was an outfit she'd worn many times to work. Perry must have read the confusion on her face.
"Honey, I know you're trying to be brave about all of this. But we are going to the mortuary to go over the last minute details for Clark's viewing at the funeral parlor tonight. Don't you think you should wear something a bit more... muted?"
Lois opened her mouth, then closed it. She bit on her lip and just nodded once. She turned and went back up the stairs. Once in her bedroom, she began stripping off the clothes she'd put on just a short time ago. Standing in her underwear, she stared into her closet. She was more confused than ever. Apparently Perry and Jimmy were in on whatever Clark was up to... or he had decided it was better to let them believe he was really dead. As callous as that might seem, she could understand it. Perry and Jimmy didn't know he was Superman. But that still didn't explain why he hadn't told her.
She pulled a dark grey suit out of the closet. It wasn't one of her favorites. In fact, she wasn't even sure she'd ever worn it. It had been a gift from her mother. Still, it should serve for what needed doing. She'd be damned if she was going to wear black.
Struggling into the new outfit, Lois wondered what she should do. She could always storm back down and demand answers from Perry and Jimmy. While the idea of grilling her boss held a certain appeal, she rejected it. No, Perry's remorse and concern for her seemed genuine. She had to believe that they weren't in the loop. Whatever Clark was playing at, Perry and Jimmy obviously weren't a part of it. That meant that the only way she was going to find out what was going on was to play along until the answers presented themselves.
But one thing was for sure. Clark had better have a very compelling reason for putting her through this with no explanation, or he wouldn't have to play at being dead because she would kill him herself.
Lois shrugged on the matching jacket as she left the bedroom and headed back down the stairs to join up with Perry and Jimmy. Hopefully answers to this weird, twisted scenario would come soon.
The morning, and the afternoon, had been a nightmare. Lois was forced to sit through prolonged meetings with a man she'd never seen before, yet acted as if they'd conversed many times. He was clearly the director of the funeral home, but for all his seeming familiarity with her she didn't know him from the man in the moon. Nor had she ever been to this mortuary before.
Still, she acted like she had as the long process of 'making arrangements' was hashed out. She felt burdened by all the concern and sympathy everyone kept showing her. It made her want to scream 'Clark is alive, you idiots, he can't die because he's Superman'. Of course she couldn't, but she wanted to.
It took a while before she realized something -- or, more accurately, someone -- was missing. If Clark was supposed to be dead, where were his parents? Surely Jon and Martha would be here if their only son had been murdered? When she was able to break free from the ghoulish director long enough, she had asked Perry where Clark's folks were.
Perry had given her a strange look, then shaken his head sadly. In a tone which suggested that he thought she was close to losing her mind, he'd gently said, as if he were reminding her, that Clark's parents were dead.
Martha and Jon? Dead? That was almost as crazy as Clark being dead! She was actually now wondering if Clark, even though he felt he couldn't tell her what was going on, had confided his plan to his parents and they'd come up with this excuse to give them a legitimate excuse not to show up. But when were they going to tell her what was going on? And everyone else? After all, Clark wouldn't want to have to go through with a bogus burial, would he?
Now that the so-called details had been ironed-out and finalized, Lois found herself nervously pacing as evening fell and the time for friends and colleagues to start arriving approached. After about her third circuit around the large memorial hall, she was halted by the noise of activity coming from the back of the room. She turned and saw two men wheeling in an elegant, silver-grey casket. Her heart fluttered for a second as she watched the attendants carefully position the coffin next to the altar, or podium, or whatever it was that held the small spray of flowers the Daily Planet had sent over.
She watched in morbid horror as the lid was lifted and she was able to see inside the casket for the first time. Her heart nearly stopped this time. The casket was occupied! As if in a trance, she moved slowly closer. The charcoal-colored suit, the loud tie, the glasses, the dark hair with that stubborn lock that fell over his forehead... it was Clark. But it couldn't be Clark.
Lois moved right up next to the coffin and stared down at its occupant. She flashed back to memories of relatives who'd passed and the funerals she'd had to attend growing up. She always chafed at hearing people say how 'natural' the person looked in their casket. She never got that. They were dead, and they looked dead. The make-up used to try and mask that fact was never adequate, and only served to accentuate the fact that the person lying there was dead.
Clark, lying in the pristine white silk, looked dead. He didn't look like some sort of mannequin, or a construct of any sort. It definitely was a person lying there in front of her. Had Clark gone to all the trouble of actually masquerading as his own deceased body? If that was so, she would be able to tell just by touching him, wouldn't she? No matter how long he could hold his breath, and pretend to be dead, his skin would still be warm to the touch. It would still have the elasticity that a live person's skin would have. All she had to do was reach out and touch him.
She stared for several minutes, her hands not leaving her sides. She was reluctant to test her theory. She wanted answers, but what if they weren't the answers she desired? Slowly, her right hand came forward. She had to know. It took some effort to keep her hand from shaking as she gingerly ran her fingertips across Clark's cheek.
Her brow knitted in a frown as she repeated the seemingly affectionate gesture. The skin was cold... and flaccid. How was that possible? If it wasn't for the fact that she knew that Clark wasn't dead because she'd just seen him earlier that morning, she would've sworn that the person lying in the casket was indeed dead.
Could he have somehow made himself appear dead, beyond just holding his breath or breathing really shallowly? She knew he could slow his heartbeat down to the point that he would almost appear to be in a trance. But he was so cold to the touch...
"Of course," she whispered fiercely.
How could she have forgotten? The two of them had pulled this trick before, only that time it had been to make Jason Masik think that Superman had killed her. He'd used his super cold breath to freeze her and make her appear dead. Had he somehow been able to do something similar? Had he used that super breath again, only this time on himself, so that his body would feel cold and appear dead?
Again she kept coming back to the question of why? Why would Clark need to go through this subterfuge and, more importantly, why hadn't he told her beforehand?
"What are you up to, Clark?" Her voice was soft but there was no mistaking the tint of pain and anger that colored the edges.
Suddenly, an all-too-familiar sound caught her ear and pulled her attention away from the coffin and its occupant. Lois caught sight of the spandex-clad hero of millions as he approached and greeted Perry and Jimmy, who'd been standing outside the memorial hall. Superman leaned close and spoke, too quietly for her to hear, to Perry. He then turned and caught her eye. A chill when through her body as she plainly read the anguish on his face. It was clear that Superman was in pain, and that much of that pain was directed toward her. His concern and sympathy for her was like a physical blow. She had to look away.
Her mind was in turmoil. If Superman was standing out there, then how could Clark be in the coffin pretending to be dead? It didn't make any sense. She turned back to the figure of her husband lying so still in the pillowed silk. If the person in the coffin wasn't Superman pretending to have died, then it was someone who was actually dead... but who? It couldn't be...
Her hands began to shake. "No." Her voice cracked. "No, no, no." Her head shook slowly back in forth in denial. Tears began to roll down her cheeks as she slipped to her knees in front of the casket. "No!"
END OF PART 1
PART 2 by Wendy
Lois lay in her empty, lonely bed, her eyes stubbornly remaining shut. If she couldn't open them, after all, then she couldn't wake up. Wouldn't have to get up and face the day.
As long as she didn't have to open her eyes, she could pretend that none of it was true.
None of it was happening. Clark wasn't dead. Today wasn't the day they were viewing his body at the funeral home.
Clark wasn't dead.
But the truth couldn't be denied indefinitely. Sooner or later, she was going to have to open her eyes. She was going to have to do what had to be done. To get up, dress appropriately, meet Perry and Jimmy and prepare to bury the only man she'd ever loved.
Her husband. Dead. Killed by one bullet to his chest.
One lousy bullet. And one missing Superhero.
It was just as well that Superman had kept out of her way since the day it had happened. How she'd ever thought she even liked him, much less loved him... He was supposed to be her friend. Their friend. How many times had he told them privately that they were the people he cared most about in the world?
When she'd needed him most, he was nowhere to be seen.
He'd save the entire world. He'd even save criminals who deserved to be in jail or dead. And yet he hadn't saved the most decent, honest man who ever lived. The man he'd been as close to as a brother.
Oh, she hated h--"
"Honey, I know I wore you out last night, but you'd really better get up or we'll be late for work."
The teasing voice felt so real she could have sworn she was actually hearing it. And yet it just wasn't possible. Her imagination was running overtime.
And yet she could smell something. Something very familiar. And very real.
How on earth...
A hand touched her shoulder, shaking her slightly. "Come on, honey, it really is time to wake up."
Lois sat up abruptly, eyes wide. Clark really was standing next to her bed. He really was holding a cup of coffee. He really was here.
He really was alive.
Clark was really dead. There was no more denying it. That body in the coffin was his.
She'd run out of other explanations. That it was a dummy. That it was some other guy made up to look like Clark. That maybe, just maybe, it was the Clark from the alternate universe.
It wasn't. He was her husband.
The body in the coffin was unmistakably Clark Kent. Everything, every little detail, was perfect, right down to the tiny mole above his upper lip. He was wearing the ring she'd put on his finger herself. And there was a love-bite just below his collar -- she'd put that there herself four nights ago.
Clark really was dead.
But *how*? It made no sense. None whatsoever.
First, Clark couldn't be killed by an ordinary bullet. Second, if he was dead, what was Superman doing here? Third, why had she no memory at all of any of this happening?
Could she, in her grief, simply have blanked out the past few days? Was it possible that she just didn't *remember* Clark being killed?
No, that made no sense. There was still Superman. And there was still Clark's invulnerability.
"Lois?" The voice from behind her was so very familiar. Painfully familiar. Superman was standing close to her, his hand pressed to her shoulder. Superman. Who should be her husband, but apparently wasn't.
"I think you'd better take her home, son." That was Perry. "It's all been too much for her. We should have realised that when we saw her this morning."
Strong arms slid under her, lifting her, cradling her against a solid, warm, familiar chest. And yet the way he held her wasn't familiar. His grip was more impersonal, less of an embrace.
If she needed one more clue that the man in the Suit and cape wasn't her husband, then he'd just given it to her.
Tears streamed down her cheeks and onto Superman's spandex as they flew.
"Clark! You're alive! Oh my god... you're *alive*!"
He blinked, giving her a puzzled look. "Of course I am, honey." His expression changed to concern. "What's wrong? Did you have a bad dream or something?"
Could she have been dreaming? And yet it had all seemed so real...
"You were covering that demonstration at City Hall the other day and you got shot!" Sobs came unbidden again, as they'd done ever since Perry had broken the dreadful news. "You were killed instantly... I never even got to say goodbye..."
He sat on the bed and reached for her, tugging her into his embrace. She went eagerly, needing to feel his warm solidity against her, his living flesh under her palms. His heartbeat against her cheek. "Lois, it was a dream. That's all. I'm fine -- see? I'm right here. And anyway, you know a bullet can't kill me."
She'd been relaxing against him, but that made her gasp and jerk away. "What? Clark, what are you talking about?"
He frowned. "Lois? Are you sure you're okay?" He touched her forehead. "You're not running a temperature... Oh, god, you haven't lost your memory again, have you?"
She didn't think so... and yet something was definitely odd here. "I'm fine. Just... oh, you don't know how awful it felt thinking you were dead!"
Suddenly, she was in his arms again. "I know, honey. I've been there too, remember?"
Huh? What was going on here? "Clark, what are you talking about?"
"When I thought Bad Brain Johnson had vaporised you. Remember?"
She stared at him. "I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about!"
Abruptly, he released her and stood up. "Who are you?"
"Lois, will you be okay if I leave you now? I think Perry and Alice are going to come by in a little while."
"No!" She grabbed at the end of Superman's cape. The flight had given her some time to calm herself and to think. There were still too many unanswered questions, and Superman was probably the only person who could begin to help her out here.
He hesitated. "I can stay for a few minutes, if that's what you want."
"I need to talk to you." She sat on the sofa, indicating that he should sit opposite. He obeyed. "Why are you still alive?"
He almost fell off his chair. "What?"
"If Clark is dead, then you should be dead too. That's what I don't understand."
Shaking his head, Superman replied, "I'm sorry, Lois. You're not making sense to me."
"You're Clark. Clark is dead. Therefore you shouldn't be here."
Patiently, she said, "Superman is Clark Kent. The secret identity. The glasses. The normal life behind the superhero guise. So, I repeat: if Clark is dead, how come you're still alive? Are you a clone or something? Or a Superman from another universe? And how could Clark have been killed in the first place? Was that bullet made of Kryptonite?"
"Wait, wait. You're confusing me." Superman got to his feet and started to pace. "Lois, I know you've had a terrible shock. I know this is an awful time for you. But this won't help you. Clark is gone. And however much I'd love to bring him back for you, I *can't*. Don't you think I would have if I could? I'm not him, Lois. I don't know why you seem to think I am."
"But you are."
He was about to protest again, but she jumped up and caught his hand. "Superman, do something for me. Please."
He sighed. "Anything, Lois."
"Come with me." She led the way upstairs; he followed, looking increasingly unsure, especially when she walked into her bedroom. Her and Clark's bedroom. Ignoring his reluctance, she threw open a closet and pulled out a pair of Clark's jeans and his favourite T-shirt, and then grabbed a spare pair of glasses from a drawer. "Put these on."
"Superman, you said you'd do anything for me. This is what I'm asking you."
He hesitated, then took the pile of clothing from her. He disappeared into the bathroom, returning mere seconds later dressed in what she'd given him. She frowned, then reached out and finger-combed his hair into place, then drew him over to the bedroom mirror.
He stared at his reflection with an expression of disbelief. Clark Kent looked back at him.
"Lois... how is this *possible*?"
"I told you." She stood beside him, her arms folded, feeling strength and determination returning. "You're Clark. And now that I've proved that, I want you to tell me what you've done with my husband and how it's possible that Clark is dead."
Now what was going on? "I'm Lois Lane. Your *wife*, in case you'd forgotten."
But Clark shook his head. "No. You may be Lois Lane, but you're not *my* Lois."
"I don't know what you mean!"
He sighed. "I don't think you're a double. There's evidence of an old break in your ankle. But you're not the Lois I married. There's too much you don't know about -- the Bad Brain thing, me -- and you thought I was dead. That means one of two things. Either you're a very good clone, or you're from another universe."
"Another uni -? Clark, you're not making any sense."
"I'm probably making about as much sense to you as you were to me a few minutes ago." He grimaced. "Look, Lois, since I don't think anyone would know enough to make sure a clone would have that bone-tissue scarring, I'm going to assume that you are from another universe. It's the only explanation that makes any sense."
Shaking her head, Lois exclaimed, "There's no such thing as other universes!"
"You know that for a fact?" Clark gave her a quick smile. "Look, there not only are other universes, but my Lois has been to one of them. I don't know if it's the one you're from -- in fact, I doubt it given you don't know about me."
"No..." Other universes? Other versions of herself? This man wasn't her husband? Okay, Clark was definitely acting a little strange, but how could he *not* be her husband?
"You don't believe me?" He shrugged. "Okay, maybe this will change your mind." And he whirled himself around, faster than her eye could see. And when he stopped, Clark had vanished. Suddenly, Superman was in the bedroom.
"Supe -- What are you doing here?" Automatically, protectively, she crossed her arms over her chest.
"Lois, don't you recognise me?" The voice was Clark's.
Clark? In Superman's Suit?
Why was nothing making sense this morning?
"Lois." Superman was walking towards her. "It's me. This is what I meant when I said a bullet can't kill me. He -- the Clark of your world -- he never told you that he's Superman?"
The Clark of her world... enough of this alternate universe stuff already! It was making her head spin! "If Clark was Superman, he'd have told me. We were *married*! And... and anyway, I've seen him and Superman together dozens of times. He's even had dinner with us!"
Superman -- Clark -- looked taken aback. "How is that possible?"
Lois shrugged. "I don't know how it's possible that you're Superman."
"Trust me, I am." And suddenly he was back in his Clark clothes, but floating three feet off the ground. "I don't understand it, but somehow in your world Clark and Superman aren't the same guy."
In her world... It was crazy. It was freaky. It was sci-fi geeky. And yet it was seeming more plausible by the minute. This man, this Clark Kent, wasn't her husband. This place wasn't her home. And that meant...
Dully, she said, "My Clark is really dead."
Superman was shaking his head. "Lois, I just don't understand any of this. It doesn't make any sense!"
"You think you being alive when Clark is dead does?"
"But I'm *not* Clark!" Abruptly, he sped into the bathroom, returning dressed in the Spandex again. Continuing the discussion as if he hadn't left, he said, "Come on, Lois, how many times have you seen the two of us together? Don't you remember? I even had dinner here with you two just the other week!"
She shook her head. This was making even less sense. Superman not knowing that he was Clark? Actually believing that he'd been in the same room with Clark? "What universe are you from?" she demanded.
And then, abruptly, she sat down heavily on the bed. It had suddenly all become clear. "That's it. You're not from another universe... I am!"
"That's it! I don't know why I didn't see it before! Of *course* that's what's happened! Somehow I've been thrown into your universe. The Clark who's dead isn't my Clark. He's... oh, god, some other poor Lois, who's probably in my universe right now!" Would Clark have figured it out? Oh, god, he wouldn't *not* have realised, would he? Oh, she couldn't think about that right now!
Superman was staring at her with an expression she recognised. It was one which said that, if she wasn't certifiably insane, she was well on the way to it.
Ignoring him, she continued, "I still don't know why you're not Clark, but at least that explains why I had no idea that Clark had been killed. And where his parents are, I guess."
"Clark's parents are dead." Superman was shaking his head, obviously rejecting what she was saying. "Lois, you *know* that!"
"No. No, you're not thinking, Cl..." She shook her head. "Superman. I can't call you Superman! You're Clark! But this is what I mean. See? This isn't my universe."
"Lois, *universes*? This is cra --"
"Look, I know you think I'm hallucinating or something. But hear me out. And I really can't call you Superman. I'm going to call you Kal, okay?"
He sighed. "I guess."
"Okay. So. What you have to realise is that this isn't the only universe in existence. There are others -- at least two others. I come from one of them and I've been to another. I mean, real, entire universes with the same planets, the same countries, the same *people*! Where I come from, I'm married to Clark Kent who is also Superman. His parents are still alive. So are mine."
"Lois, your parents were killed in an accident last year --"
"So she's really all alone?" Sadness filled her for the woman who had just suffered the most devastating loss Lois could possibly imagine. "I wish there was something we could do about that. But anyway," she continued, returning to the subject, "That's my universe. Then there's another universe where Lois Lane was lost in the Congo four years ago and the whole world knows that Clark is Superman. I spent a few days there last year. And now there's your universe."
"This sounds like something out of a fantasy novel!"
"I know but, trust me, it's true. Not that any of it's really important for you to know. All that matters is that we need to find a way to get me home." And get the other Lois back to a world which had become her worst nightmare... But she couldn't think about that. There was nothing she could do about it.
All the same... "Kal?"
"When did you come to Earth? Did you arrive as a baby, like Clark?"
And, just like that, he faltered. Took a step backwards. Ran a hand agitatedly through his hair, ruffling it again and making it look like Clark's. "I... don't know."
"You don't *know*? Why not?"
He grimaced. "So Clark never told you?"
"Kal, I just told you. I'm not married to the Clark of this universe. So, whatever it is, you'll have to tell me yourself."
Looking skeptical, he said, "Okay. Remember the asteroid?"
"Oh yeah. Nightfall. That was a pretty close one. Clark still dreams about it sometimes."
"Clark... Okay. Right. Your Clark. Not the Clark who's dead." Kal sighed, obviously frustrated. "Look, you have to remember what happened. How I crashed into his apartment and put him in the hospital? He lost his memory. He got bits of it back but there are parts of his life he never remembered."
Lois stared at him. "Really? My Clark did get his memory back -- well, obviously, since he flew back into space and smashed the asteroid."
But he didn't seem to be listening. "Lois, what I... we... never told anyone else is that I lost my memory too. I didn't even know I had powers. Clark told me that, once he started remembering a few things -- he had to convince me about what I could do so that I could destroy Nightfall. And I still don't remember a damn thing before waking up in Clark's apartment with part of the wall on top of us!"
Through her tears, she saw the man who wasn't her husband nod. "Yes. He probably is. Though I still don't understand how you have a Superman in your world as well... That doesn't matter right now, though. What matters is getting you home again."
And getting this man's wife back. While leaving her all alone, preparing to bury her husband...
But he was right. She had to go home. This man might look like Clark, might sound like Clark, but he wasn't Clark.
She reached for the robe which lay at the foot of the bed, then threw back the covers once she'd pulled it on. It felt wrong to stay in this bed -- the marital bed of the man in front of her and his wife.
"Tell me something," he said suddenly. "Did the Superman of your world ever tell you anything about his origins?"
She hesitated, trying to remember. "A little, once -- that he was from another planet. But that's about all, I think."
She shrugged. "That he was adopted -- he was the illegitimate son of a distant relative of Martha Kent's. Jonathan and Martha couldn't have children, so they took him."
Clark nodded. "That's exactly the same story we told to explain me. My Kryptonian parents sent me to Earth as a baby and the Kents found me. I wonder who found your Superman?"
"I have no idea. I guess... I always assumed that he just came to Earth not long before his first rescue."
"Speaking perfect English? Understanding everything about the way the world works? Knowing his way around? Sure, he could've studied maps and videotapes and so on, but didn't you think he was just a little *too* authentic?"
Okay, this was too much. What right did he have to criticise her? He couldn't even offer a word of sympathy? "So did your Lois figure out everything about you from the start?"
He looked abashed. "Okay, no, she didn't. It took her a couple of years, actually. And I shouldn't have attacked you about it. I'm just trying to make any kind of sense out of this two people thing here." He frowned. "You're sure there's always been two of them?"
"Well, yeah, I mean, as far as I know." Of course there were! She'd always known Clark. And then there'd been Superman. She'd seen them together right from the start, hadn't she? "I even remember right back when Superman saved the world from Nightfall. He crash-landed into Clark's apartment the first time he tried. I went over there not long after it happened -- just as well, because Clark had been knocked unconscious and lost his memory. He and Superman needed me to get them straightened out."
"Wait a minute -- Superman crashed into Clark's apartment?"
"Yeah. You didn't?"
"No, I came down into Suicide Slum." He shook his head briefly. "Not that it matters. We need to concentrate on getting you home."
"And how do you propose we do that?" She couldn't prevent the note of sarcasm which crept into her voice. He thought he knew it all. He thought he was so clever, this Clark Kent who was also Superman. But he wasn't the one who'd just been widowed. He hadn't lost his wife. Well, technically he had, but he was going to get her back -- once they took her back to her own world. To her dead husband.
Though she had no idea just how he planned to do that...
He sighed. "I swore I'd never do this, but..." Turning, he pulled open the nightstand drawer and removed something. Holding the object, which seemed to be made of some sort of metal or plastic and about the size of a cigarette carton, close to his face, he said in a resigned tone, "Mr Wells, I need you."
"You don't remember anything?"
"Not a thing. I didn't even know my own name. I still don't -- I don't even know why you're calling me Kal!"
Lois frowned. "Because that's your Kryptonian name -- Kal-El!"
"You really don't remember anything about yourself, do you?" She studied Kal thoughtfully. An idea was just beginning to crystallise in her mind. Clark would probably tell her that she was reaching, but she was beginning to get a pretty strong suspicion...
A sudden flash of light sent her stumbling backwards. Kal was next to her immediately, grabbing her arm, steadying her. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fi -- *Clark*?"
Her husband, and a woman who looked just like her, had materialised out of the blue in the bedroom. And with them was a man she'd hoped never to see again.
"Mr Wells. I should have known. Is this all your doing?"
Kal stepped aside abruptly, and Lois realised that Clark had given him a hard stare. As she ran to embrace her husband, he said, "Actually, it wasn't Mr Wells' fault. He didn't know anything about this before I contacted him."
She groaned. "Tempus, then."
"It doesn't appear so, Miss Lane. From the readings on my instruments, it appears that there was some sort of anomaly which caused the dividing line between the universes to... well, for want of a better word, to blur temporarily, allowing you and -- well, Miss Lane to swap places."
Miss Lane. The Lois from this universe. The Lois whose husband was dead. Lois turned to study the other woman, who stood on her own in the bedroom, dressed in a robe, her hands twisting together as she stared at the bed. Her bed -- the bed she'd slept in with her Clark, who was dead.
The woman, the other Lois, looked as if she was living in her worst nightmare.
Kal went to her, touched her arm, and then hugged her. Lois was glad to see it.
She turned her attention back to Wells. "What sort of anomaly?"
"I'm still trying to work that out. Everything *seems* to be as it should -- the soul-tracer still reports Clark Kent and Lois Lane present in this universe, as in yours --"
"What did you say?" Clark exclaimed; Lois would have been right behind him.
"The soul-tracer --"
"Never mind that!" Lois interrupted him. "This universe's Clark Kent is dead! He was killed a couple of days ago."
Wells looked disbelieving. "Miss Lane, this universe's Clark Kent is right over there. With Miss Lane."
Kal looked up. "I don't know why you all insist on thinking that I'm Clark. I'm not! And just who are you, by the way?"
"He's HG Wells. A dead writer. Oh, and a time-traveller too," Lois said, waving a dismissive hand. "Don't worry about it."
"But, Superman, you *are* Clark Kent!" Wells persisted. "The soul-tracer says so!"
Inspiration struck. "Mr Wells, do you have your time-travelling thingy with you?" Lois demanded.
"Yes, but why -- ?"
"Because to fix this we need to go back in time."
The other Lois looked up, her pale expression brightened by a flash of excitement. "Go back in time? Can we? To when Clark was killed? To save his life?"
"No. Not to then." Clark had spoken, and Lois met his gaze. Had he come to the same conclusion as she?
"To when Nightfall was on its way," she said. "To just before Clark -- as Superman -- crash-landed onto his apartment."
Kal frowned in puzzlement. "But why? And -- god, I keep having to say this -- I'm not Clark! Clark was inside the apartment when I smashed into it."
"No, he wasn't." That was Clark again. "I think what must have happened is that something -- I don't know what -- caused you to split in two on impact. From then on, you were both Clark and Superman."
"And neither of you have any memory of being anything else." Lois continued the speculative explanation. "You don't remember anything before the accident -- which makes sense since, for you, there *was* no before the accident. Clark only remembered some things before the accident -- the Clark part of him. He never remembered anything to do with the Superman part."
"That's crazy!" Kal exclaimed.
Wells, however, became thoughtful. Producing several devices from multiple pockets of his old-fashioned suit, he began to study them. After a few moments, he murmured, "I do believe you might be right! And... you mentioned that this world's Clark Kent has been killed? That just might be the anomaly which caused you two ladies to be flung into the wrong universe!"
"Then let's go!"
If anyone had told Lois a week ago that time travel was not only possible, but that she'd be doing it, she'd have laughed in their face. Now, standing in her own bedroom hearing a perfect stranger who was her exact double tell another perfect stranger to go back three years, she simply resigned herself to going with the flow.
Who knew? It just might be possible. And, after all, unless someone had perpetrated a highly elaborate hoax, she'd just been universe-hopping.
And then, suddenly, everything around her shimmered. The ground was unsteady beneath her feet -- she flailed out, trying to steady herself, and her hand caught at an arm. An arm covered in Spandex.
"I've got you, Lois."
Superman. *Her* Superman -- not the other Lois's Clark. Despite the fact that she wanted to rip out his heart, as he'd ripped out hers for not saving Clark, relief flooded her. Finally, someone she knew, among this sea of strangers with deceptively familiar faces.
And then the weird whirling sensation stopped and everything cleared. They were out of doors and it was night -- and she recognised their location. Outside Clark's old apartment on Clinton Street.
"Wha -?" she began, but her own voice interrupted her.
"There he is!" It was the other Lois, and she was pointing into the sky.
Lois stared, struggling to see in the darkness. There was something -- some*one* -- up there. A red and blue streak, tumbling down towards the ground. She heard a sharp intake of breath from beside her, and glanced aside to see Superman go pale.
"I've got him." There was a whoosh, and a grey blur went past her. She only realised it was Clark -- the other Lois's husband -- when she couldn't see him standing there any longer. The grey streak shot upwards and met the blue and red one, slowing as they merged, and then shot sideways and disappeared into the night.
Mere seconds later, Clark strolled up to the small group. "So, what did you do?" the other Lois asked.
"Flew him down to Suicide Slum. I made a crater just like the one I fell into, and left him there. He'll be perfectly safe until someone finds him."
"I don't get it," Superman said slowly. "Why should where I landed make a difference?"
"It may not be *where* so much as *how*," the odd guy called Wells said. "Time, however, will tell us whether the split has been mended."
Lois stared sharply at Superman as he trailed off. Suddenly, he almost bent double. Then he took a sharp breath, straightened and looked at her. "Lois? I... Oh, god, I remember! Honey, it's me!"
And, before she could say a word, he swung her into his arms and kissed her.
Superman. Clark. Her husband. *Alive*. Holding her. Kissing her.
So what if he really was Superman? She could put up with him disappearing from time to time to save the world, couldn't she? The important thing was that he was alive.
Wrapping her arms around him, she kissed him back fiercely.
"Don't you think we should get those two back home? Before anyone notices that there are two Supermen in this time -- or it gets splashed all over the news that Superman's having a torrid affair with Lois Lane?"
"Ah." Clark grinned. "Probably makes sense." He coughed lightly. "Ah, Mr Wells?"
The little man jumped, obviously startled. "Ah... yes, of course. Time to return!"
Within seconds they were back in the bedroom. The other couple didn't seem to notice the change in scenery; they were still wrapped in each other's arms, kissing fiercely. Lois caught Clark's eye; he grinned.
On the floor, a crumpled copy of the Daily Planet lay discarded, headline facing up.
PLANET REPORTER NARROWLY ESCAPES DEATH Superman saves Clark Kent as gunshots fired by angry mob
"Excellent! It appears that we were successful." Wells' eyes were twinkling. "Now, if you will permit me to return you and Mr Kent to your own universe..."
"Please do, Mr Wells," Clark said, his tone dry.
Lois couldn't wait. She threw her arms around Clark as the familiar swirling started, and then tried to be patient as the time-traveller bade his usual polite, if long-winded farewells. Finally, they were alone.
"I can't tell you how good it is to see you!" she exclaimed.
Clark's gaze never left her. "You too, honey. Was it really terrible?"
"Pretty bad at first. Until I realised what had to have happened. I just didn't understand how you could be dead -- and how Superman was alive."
"I'm not dead." His voice was soft, his gaze caressing her. "I wouldn't do that to you -- you'd kill me!"
She had to laugh at that. "You bet I would, Clark Kent!"
"All's well that ends well." He smiled, then bent to brush his lips over hers. "For the other Lois and Clark, too. I'm glad about that."
"Me too. I'd hate for any Lois not to have her Clark. You're pretty indispensable to us, you know that?"
"Ditto." He kissed her again. And, seconds later, she'd completely forgotten what they were talking about.
First thoughts, by Wendy
Interesting. Verrrrry interesting. Extremely clever, in fact. I don't think I'd have thought of this premise in a million years. ;) And very evil, Tank. But then, what should I have expected? When have your challenges ever been less than pure evil? You do seem to like making Lois grieve. Let me see... Strange Visitor, the evil vignette; Oops, Did I Forget to Mention?; and, of course, The Needs of the Many. All stories in which you left Clark dead and Lois devastated. And now here's another one. Um, are you trying to tell us something? ;) That she really needs to be with a bass-playing bearded singer from Minnesota?
Of course, lots of ideas spring to mind... a case of Mr Mxzyptlk interfering? Except we've used that a couple of times and I wouldn't want to be repetitive. Tempus? Lois transferred to an alternate universe? How come there's a Superman as well as a Clark? Well, I could have some fun with this -- unlike some of the challenges, it won't be too difficult to find a solution. The ideas are already buzzing. And it does seem to offer some opportunity for angst. Now all I need to do is figure out what Lois has realised and then take it from there. :)
And final thoughts by Tank
Well, once again Wendy has shown her stuff and has done an admirable job of handling the little set-up I've given her. I liked how she handled this one. She was able to take what might seem to be a more conventional solution to the problem and give it a clever twist to make it unique in its own right. I liked how she was able to keep our Lois from succumbing to the despair of the situation. Her senses were telling her that her husband was dead, yet her intellect kept reminding her that it couldn't be. Once again she was able to use her brain to figure things out. The two different dimensions aspect of the story was one which might occur to many of the gentle readers but I really liked how she was able to allow the other Lois to get her husband back. Typical Wendy fic... everybody gets to live happily ever after. I guess this just proves that there is no stumping the woman when it comes to giving Lois and Clark a happy ending, any Lois and Clark.
As most gentle readers know, one of the constraints of these challenges is that we can't present the other with a 'problem' that we haven't figured out, at least, one solution to. This prevents giving each other 'no win' situations. These stories are meant as challenges, not frustrations. I too had thought of ways to use the other dimensional versions of Lois and Clark to continue this story, but I have to admit that Wendy's particular twist never occurred to me. Still, I tried to come up with a solution that wouldn't have included a certain 5th dimensional imp (we've already done that), or the Lois and Clarks from other dimensions. So, if this had been my challenge, I would have opted for something along the lines of Lois being kidnapped by some bad guys who have a score to settle with her. Their revenge would take on the form of a mental torture in which Lois is forced to 'live out' her worst nightmare; the death of her beloved husband. Whatever 'brain washing' the bad guys use on Lois is doomed to fail though because they don't have the one simple fact that Lois knows. That Clark is Superman. This inconsistency would be the clue that Lois would use to break their hold over her and allow her to win the day. Or something like that.
Again, Wendy has provided the gentle readers with a compelling and fun resolution to one of my set-ups. Hope our efforts have entertained.
Tank and Wendy -- Fall 2005