Submitted: December, 2007
Summary: Lois and Clark believe that another clone of Superman has been created. Can they uncover the truth before Superman's reputation is permanently tarnished?
Disclaimer: This fic could be darker/different than my normal stories. I don't know if this is good or not, just bear in mind that you've been warned.
Timeline: After Vatman and before Barbarians at the Planet.
All characters and settings are the property of someone else, definitely not me, and whoever else can legally lay claim to them. No copyright infringement is intended. This story was written purely for fun, not for profit. A thank you to the writers of Lois & Clark, without them we wouldn't have this wonderful world to play in. A special thank you to the writers of the Vatman episode, from which I have shamelessly borrowed and used several lines and scenes.
And, of course, a thank you to my betas Sue and Lara for their always wonderful, beta work. You both know I couldn't post without you.
The radio announcer's words caught Clark's attention and he opened one groggy eye to glance at the time on his alarm clock -- six forty-five. After smashing more alarm clocks than most people cared to own in a lifetime, he had bought one with a radio instead. It was set to go off in the mornings on a classical music station -- soothing and pleasant to listen to.
That way he didn't have to turn it off until later, after he had woken up and was more in control of himself.
The music had been playing for a while but Clark hadn't gotten up yet. If this truly was 'breaking news,' it might mean Clark would be getting up to put on an entirely different morning ensemble.
"Reports confirm that Superman was seen robbing a bank earlier this morning..." a man's voice continued.
WHAT? Clark's brain stammered and the rest of the announcer's words were lost in a static fog. Had a bank robber actually impersonated Superman? He focused back in on what the announcer was saying.
"...said several eyewitness accounts, but beyond that, there is security camera footage showing the Man of Steel busting through the armor-plated door of the bank vault and carrying out a large bag. Bank officials have now confirmed that over a million dollars in bank assets were stolen by the once-esteemed hero..."
Once-esteemed? What happened to innocent until proven guilty? Superman hadn't even had a chance to defend himself yet...
Wait a minute -- had he just said that the robber had busted through the armor-plated vault door? That wasn't possible, was it? Not for a normal human, anyway.
Could it be another clone?
How? He had been careful not to donate any more locks of hair -- even making sure he used his heat vision on the remains after giving himself a trim. And his clone and other DNA had been disposed of when he had launched it into the sun.
Clark frowned sadly. He hadn't wanted things to end that way. It would have been nice having a... a what? A brother? That was about the closest analogy he could make. But the clone had been dying. He had been in pain. And he had asked Clark to destroy him. So Clark had obliged.
In light of the current situation, he wished he had been able to get the clone to tell him who had created him. But, try as he might, he hadn't been able to coax the information from him. The clone had said that even though he didn't completely agree with his father's ideals or what he had done, he wasn't willing to betray him, either. The clone felt that he owed his existence, however brief, to that man.
At the time, Clark hadn't seen how it could possibly come back to haunt him.
Obviously he had been wrong.
He let out a deep sigh. At least the other clone had attempted to be somewhat helpful, however selfish and misguided his attempts at it were. Whoever this imposter was -- they had made their debut with an act of violence and crime.
It didn't bode well.
"More breaking news on this as it unfolds. Back to you at the station, Tim..."
Clark reached over and turned off the radio before bringing his hand back to run it through his sleep-tousled hair. It either had to be a clone, or someone had rigged up some kind of mechanized device or appendage that was powerful enough to bash in that vault door. Maybe after he got dressed, he would pay a visit to the bank, take a closer look at that door.
He climbed out of bed, headed for the bathroom to take a quick shower. His body felt strangely lethargic for having finally gotten a good night's sleep. It was the first time in a long time that he had slept so well or for so long. The last time he remembered waking up was to a police siren at about two o'clock in the morning, and it had been a false alarm. Now it was almost seven.
Clark grinned wryly at himself. Maybe he had gotten too much sleep.
He stepped in and out of the shower in a matter of a few seconds, drying off with a towel before tying it around his waist. He headed back into his bedroom, spinning out of the towel as he went and throwing on various pieces of clothing. When he stopped spinning, he checked himself in the full-length mirror. His tie was a little crooked. He gave it a slight adjustment before heading for his front door.
When he opened the door and started to walk out, he almost plowed into Lois, who was standing there with her hand poised to knock.
"Oh good, you're ready. Let's go," she said nonchalantly, as if her being there made all the sense in the world.
"Lois?" Clark furrowed his eyebrows. "Go where?" Had he forgotten about an appointment they had?
"To the First Metropolis Bank. Don't you listen to the news, Clark?" she asked with a roll of her eyes. "They're claiming that Superman robbed the bank last night, which is utterly preposterous and completely unbelievable, but I want to get down there and check it out. I'm sure Henderson's there."
"Yeah? And you and Henderson are such good friends..." He smiled teasingly at her.
Before he could say anymore, Lois stopped him with a smack on the arm. "Don't get cute. Now are you coming or aren't you?"
"Yes, I'm coming. Just let me lock my door." But Lois was already down the steps and headed for the street. Clark sprinted after her to catch up.
It was going to be one of those mornings.
Lois fiddled with the radio in her Jeep, changing the station every two seconds. Surely one of these stations would have something more about the break-in at the bank.
"Unbreak my heart, say you'll love me again, undo this hurt that you've caused..." Toni Braxton's lilting voice was cut off as Lois hit the tune button to move to the next station.
"And the score from the Metropolis Tiger's twilight baseball game last night was impressive..."
Lois curled her lip in disgust and pressed the button again.
"And you, too, can have tighter abs in just..."
"And then a hero comes along. With the strength to carry on. And you cast your fears aside. And you know you can survive..." Lois paused. She wasn't a huge fan of Mariah Carey but she did like this song. It made her think of Superman.
Lois angrily switched off the radio, risking a sideways glance at Clark. He was looking out the window, but his eyes didn't seem to be focused on anything.
"Hello? Earth to Clark," Lois said wryly, waving one hand in front of his face. "You could be doing something useful like trying to help me find another news report." She didn't mean to be so snippy with him. The whole situation was just infuriatingly ridiculous -- how people could actually think that Superman, of all people, had robbed that bank. Preposterous!
"Sorry. I was just thinking." He turned to look at her and she could see the concern in his face.
"About a rational explanation for what happened?" she guessed.
"Yeah." He frowned and pulled at his pants-leg a little, re-positioning himself in his seat. "Have you thought... I mean, did you wonder if..."
"Spit it out, Clark."
"What if it was another clone?"
It was Lois's turn to frown. "But Superman said he disposed of the body and the DNA sample."
"Yeah, maybe. But what if there was another sample that the clone didn't know about? What if there was something left?"
Lois shuddered. Another clone. If she lived a hundred years without ever having to see another clone of Superman, it would be too soon. It had been absolutely disgusting to see a creature that so resembled Superman, to her mind's eye, so badly mangle the ideals that he stood for. So badly betray the reputation that Superman had built for truth, justice, fairness, and... goodness.
She could still remember the night that the clone had come over for dinner. Lois had been unsuspecting. She hadn't realized that it wasn't the real Superman. He had acted like a bad prom date. She could still remember the way his arm had slid across her shoulders in that a horrible excuse of a stretch, and the way he had lunged at her for a kiss. At that moment, Lois had realized what so drew her to Superman.
Oh, sure, it didn't hurt that he could fly and had saved her life on more than one occasion. But it was the fact that she knew, without a doubt, that Superman would never use her. He would never knowingly hurt her. She felt safe with him in a way that she wasn't sure she could ever feel with any normal guy.
And she had realized it that night -- at the same point that she had realized that the man on her couch was not Superman. *He* did not make her feel safe. He was like the flipside of a coin -- what Superman could be like if he didn't have the morals that he so thankfully possessed.
That clone may not have had Superman's moral compass, but he most certainly had possessed Superman's physical qualities -- his amazing gifts and abilities, including his incredible strength. She wasn't certain who would have won the stand-off between Superman and his clone if the clone hadn't been dying, hadn't been weakened. She hadn't really wanted to think about it.
And what she wanted to think about even less is what would have happened that night after the clone had come on to her... if Clark hadn't shown up when he did.
<You like me, don't you?>
Lois let out an involuntary shudder. Yes, what would have happened, indeed? A Superman void of morals. 'Might is right' -- that's what he had believed in.
And yet, even that clone hadn't been completely evil. Not in the end. And he certainly could have bested Clark that night, if he had wanted to.
Lois glanced over at Clark. He was watching her expectantly, still waiting for an answer. "I don't know. I guess it's possible." She signed long and deep. And it was possible that if there was another clone, maybe whoever had created it had gotten his or her experiment right this time -- and if that was the case...
Superman had saved the Planet from annihilation by an asteroid, but he may not yet have faced his biggest challenge.
Clark stared at the television monitor in the Daily Planet conference room. He had watched the tape a half a dozen times, all with the same result... coming to the same conclusion.
Whoever had busted through that vault door had Superman's powers. It hadn't been a mechanical appendage or some trick, sleight of hand. Clark had slowed the footage down and had even paused it in a few places -- to get a better look -- much to the irritation of Lois.
This person -- whoever he was -- was the real deal.
Which meant that there had to be another clone. A clone who was willing to break the law. An amoral Superman.
Clark frowned. He wasn't even exactly sure how to proceed. As much as he didn't like it, he was going to have to wait for the clone to show himself again before Clark could track him down.
"So? What's our angle?" Lois asked, breaking into his thoughts.
"Yeah. Do we go with the clone theory? We sure as heck have to print something or Perry will have our hides." She ejected the tape out of the VCR and shook it in the air at no one in particular. "I don't know about you, but I don't want to write a story slanted towards Superman being a criminal."
"But you said that Superman asked you not to..."
"Yeah, I know," she cut him off sharply. "I promised to keep the whole clone thing under wraps..."
Clark nodded. "Yes, and we both agreed that it would be better..."
"What? To sit back and allow Superman's reputation to be sullied? Clark, that was before-" she held up the tape again, wriggling it back and forth "-this. Before some test-tube knock-off went and robbed a bank. We can't allow the world to think that Superman is a criminal."
Clark let out a long sigh. She was right. He knew she was. Superman had definitely had enough bad publicity over the past year. There was the heat wave incident that had been blamed on him. Oh, sure, he'd been acquitted of responsibility on that -- but the damage had still been done.
Then there was the Nightfall asteroid -- oh, yes, he had saved the entire planet, to be sure, but what about the fact that it had taken him so long to do it? There were a lot of families who had sold everything they owned, left their jobs, and had run for the hills, thinking that Superman wasn't coming back to finish the job. He had gotten plenty of bad publicity over that one. He cringed as he remembered the follow-up story that Geraldo had done just a few weeks back. A kind of 'where are they now' piece. It hadn't exactly been good press.
Then there was the little snafu with Constance the magician, and him being hypnotized and under her control. He had nearly helped her kill several innocent people -- including Lois -- and enslave half the planet to her mind control. Lois had done her best to keep the majority of that bad publicity under wraps, but what the trashy tabloids had gotten wind of, they had certainly been happy to print.
Then when that clone had shown up... Well, suffice it to say that while the clone hadn't exactly done anything criminal, he hadn't behaved in the best manner. Clark grimaced, thinking about the way his clone had tossed those criminals into the police van. One man's arm had been broken and the other man's jaw had been cracked and badly bruised. The tabloids had definitely had fun with some of those headlines.
He remembered one headline very clearly --
[Super Hero or Super Zero?]
It had been in big bold letters with his picture right below it. The words still stung when he thought about them.
He shook his head firmly at Lois. "No, you're right. Superman's had enough bad publicity this year. We can't allow people to think that he's a criminal." He crossed his arms in front of him and furrowed his brow. "But, are people going to believe the clone story? Now? After we tried so hard to cover it up? And the bigger question is: Will Perry even let us print it?"
"I don't know," Lois conceded, stalking off towards the doorway. "But I do know I'm not gonna sit around here and wait to find...."
"Find out what?" Perry asked, walking into the conference room.
Clark turned abruptly at Perry's voice and got up from the corner of the table on which he was perched. Perry didn't look happy. He had dark circles under his eyes and his jaw was set in that determined manner that he sometimes got.
"Uh," Lois stammered, caught off guard. "Find out if..."
"You know what I'd like to find out if?" Perry interrupted, eyeing them each in turn. They both shook their heads. "I'd like to find out if my two star reporters have something they'd like to print today or if they're just gonna sit in here on their laurels all day watching old news."
"Perry?" Lois stammered, her voice a little high. "Is everything all right?"
Perry let out a long sigh. "No. Everything is not all right." Clark looked at Lois and they both held their breath, waiting for him to continue. He shook his head softly and a little bit of fight seemed to leave him. "Ah, hell, kids. It's just the same old song and dance. The suits upstairs are tired of seeing us get scooped by other papers, and now, apparently, some of our sponsors are feeling the same way."
"But, Perry," Lois began.
Perry waved her off. "We still haven't bounced back from that thing with the STAR and Preston Carpenter scooping us on every story."
"But that wasn't the paper's fault," Clark chimed in. "Preston was making those headlines happen."
"Oh, Clark, you and Lois know that, and I know that. But to the suits upstairs, it's only the bottom line that counts. And trust me when I say that our bottom line doesn't look good. And hasn't looked good in weeks."
"It's that bad?" Lois asked, her face genuinely concerned.
"It's worse," Perry assured her. The statement hung in the air for a few moments before Perry began speaking again, "So do you have something for a headliner today?"
Lois grabbed his arm and led him to a chair. "We just might, Chief. But you're gonna have to trust us."
"Clone? Great shades of Elvis!" Perry exclaimed as he rose up from the chair, unable to sit still any longer. "I can't print that! We'll look like the National Whisper!"
"But Clark and I can corroborate one another's story," Lois protested. "We both saw..."
"And I've told you both before that when it comes to personal accounts of the weird and wild -- like spaceships disappearing from abandoned warehouses... or, in this case, a real-life clone of our resident superhero -- you can't corroborate each other. I have to have hard proof-" he jabbed the palm of his hand with a finger "-tangible evidence. Do you have any?"
Lois looked at Clark and she was certain that the grimace on his face matched her own. "No," she admitted in defeat.
"Then go out there and get me some." And with that final comment, Perry turned around and stormed out of the conference room.
"Any ideas?" Lois asked.
"None," Clark admitted. "You?"
"No, but I'm not giving up yet. If I have to, I'll track down Superman myself and convince him to give me a lock of his hair and..." Lois broke off because Clark was smiling broadly at her. "What?"
"Something!" she huffed, feeling annoyed at his ability to find something to smile about in the whole situation. What could possibly be so...
Lois frowned. Clark's face had changed. It had taken on a far-off look. She had seen him get that look from time to time before and had dismissed it as a sign of deep thought. But, somehow, it seemed different this time. She held out a hand in front of his face and waved it back and forth. "Hello? Clark?"
He blinked. And just like that, before she could even work up a good insult, he seemed to be back and was focusing on her.
"Maybe you should lay off the sugar in your coffee," she said with a smug smile. "You're going to end up in a diabetic coma one of these days."
"Hmmm? What do you mean?"
Lois rolled her eyes. "What do I mean? Where were you just then? Through the looking glass with Alice?" Clark just gave her a puzzled look and she responded with a noisy sigh. "Oh, never mind, come on. Let's hit the street and see if anyone has seen Superman performing any other unusual activities lately."
Clark was about to follow Lois onto the elevator when he heard it. A police siren. "Um, you go ahead," he told her. "I'll meet you downstairs in just a minute. I forgot my wallet."
"Clark!" Lois complained as the doors slid shut, cutting her off. Clark bolted for the relative safety of the stairwell to make a quick change.
Lois fidgeted as she stared at the elevator, waiting for Clark to emerge from it. She glanced over at the revolving door, wondering how upset he would be with her if she just left and went on without him.
It would be his own fault. For heaven's sake, he was a reporter. In their field it was kill or be killed... well, publish or perish anyway. The point was that she couldn't afford to stand around all day waiting for him.
She had just about made up her mind to leave when a broadcast caught her attention. She thought she heard someone mention Superman. The sound was coming from behind the counter of the newsstand vendor. Lois walked over to the counter and leaned on it, searching for the source.
"Lois, can I help you?" the vendor asked, smiling amusedly at her. "You're not going to find any Double Fudge Crunch bars back here; I haven't gotten your next shipment yet."
Mmmm, Double Fudge Crunch bars... Focus, Lois! "Um, no, that's not what I was looking for. Do you have a radio back there?"
The vendor reached down and pulled out a little miniature monochrome TV and set it on the counter. He shrugged. "On slow news days I have to have something to pass the time."
Lois smiled politely and turned the set towards her. There was a field reporter on the screen, gesturing at a burning building behind her.
"It seems that the Metropolis Fire Department has their hands full," the woman reported, gesturing at several firefighters who were desperately trying to get the blaze under control. Cries of 'Help, Superman' could be heard in the background.
"Have they said where the fire is at?" Lois asked.
He shook his head. "Sorry, if they did, I didn't hear."
She frowned. If she knew where the fire was, she could have jumped in a cab and rushed over there.
Since when did a little problem like location, stop her? She slung her purse over her arm and headed for the revolving doors. Superman was bound to show up at that fire, and when he did, she had questions for him.
"Wait, Lois! Superman just arrived on the scene," the vendor said excitedly, waving for her to come back.
She scowled. Well, so much for that. She didn't know where the fire was and there was no way she was going to get there in time to catch Superman. He'd have that fire put out and be back in the sky before she even managed to flag down a cab. Lois ran back over to the counter to watch her hero go to work.
Except... he wasn't... going to work.
He was standing there with his arms crossed in front of him, leaning against a nearby lamppost -- not doing a blessed thing. The anchorwoman ran over to him and shoved a microphone in his face.
"Superman, can you tell us why you aren't helping to put the blaze out? Have you determined that the building can't be saved? Or does this have something to do with your involvement in the alleged robbery last night at the First Metropolis Bank?"
Superman looked at her smugly, a quirky smile tugging at one side of his mouth. "Alleged? There was nothing 'alleged' about that robbery. I can assure you the bank was definitely robbed."
Lois gasped out loud. That wasn't Superman! It couldn't be. He wouldn't act like that. It had to be the clone. She silently cursed herself for not being there at the scene right now. She was going to let Clark have a piece of her mind when he finally made it down the elevator.
"Can you turn it up a little?" she asked the vendor. Come on, she thought desperately at the anchorwoman, ask him some good questions. Do your job.
The anchorwoman seemed almost like she was trying to overcome shock at what Superman had just said. She glanced warily up at the raging fire that Superman still seemed unconcerned enough to do anything about and once again held the microphone out to him. "What about the fire? Isn't there something you can do to help?"
The clone Superman had the audacity to let out a yawn. "That building was condemned. It should have come down a long time ago. And frankly, I just don't feel like wasting time or effort on something unimportant like that, anyway."
"Unimportant?" the woman pressed, her voice betraying her outrage. "What about the firefighters who are up there, risking their lives to put out the blaze?"
The clone shrugged. "That's their own fault. Me? I just don't see the point of getting involved." And with that, he was lifting up into the air and flying away... without having done so much as check on the firefighters.
"You heard it here, first. Apparently, from Superman's own mouth, he doesn't deny that he robbed the First Metropolis Bank. And he now seems overcome by... by disinterest, laziness..."
"Sloth," the vendor murmured to himself.
"Sloth?" Lois asked.
"Yeah, you know, laziness. It's one of the seven deadly sins. Who knew that Superman was susceptible, huh?"
Lois knew what sloth meant. She also knew that Superman was the last person on Earth to be susceptible to it. "Don't count on it. There's something going on here, and I'm going to get to the bottom of it."
"I can tell you what's going on," he offered. "Living in this city has finally gotten to the 'Man of Steel'."
"That's not true. He's innocent, and I'm gonna prove it."
"Well, good luck to you, Ms. Lane. If anyone can do it, you can," he told her encouragingly.
"Thanks," Lois said, once again taking off for the revolving doors.
"Wait, Lois! I'm coming!"
She turned around to see Clark come jogging off the elevator. She put her hands on her hips and gave him her most disapproving glare. "Where have you been? You just cost us an exclusive! And don't tell me it took that long to find your wallet!"
Clark held up a pencil. "The supply closet. My other one broke and I had to..."
"It took you that long to get a new pencil?" she exclaimed shrilly.
It actually hadn't taken him any time to get a new pencil. That excuse had been easy enough to procure. What bothered him was that he wasn't sure what had happened just before that... He remembered hearing police sirens and thinking he needed to come up with an excuse to go help. He had dashed off to the stairwell, and then... nothing. He had jolted back to awareness to find himself lying on the cold concrete floor of the stairwell, staring at the door leading to the roof... He didn't know how much time had passed but the police sirens were long gone and he didn't have a clue where to go or how to help, so he had reluctantly retrieved a new pencil for a cover story and then come downstairs.
"Well there weren't any sharpened ones," he continued lamely. "I had to..."
"Never mind," she bit out, not hiding her irritation. She grabbed his arm and pulled him towards the revolving door. "Come on, we've gotta go."
"To find out more info about this clone and what we're dealing with," she explained as if it should be obvious. "He just refused to help put out a fire in a building downtown and..."
"What?" Clark exclaimed. "When?"
"Just now. I was watching it on TV before you came down but..."
"Where? Which building?" he pressed.
"I don't know. Somewhere downtown. Why does it matter?" she asked exasperatedly. "The important issue is that..."
"Lois, I'm sorry," Clark said, his brain fighting for an excuse. "I... I just realized that I didn't get my... press pass." Clark bit the inside of his cheek, hating lying to her. He had his press pass; it was in his inside jacket pocket. But he had to have an excuse to leave. The 'real' Superman needed to go put out that fire.
"Press pass? Clark, we're going to talk to some sources, not attend a luncheon with the mayor. You don't need your..."
"Yes, I do. Always be prepared. That's the Boy Scout motto. It'll just take a minute. I'll be right back."
"But!" Lois protested as she watched him run towards the door to the stairwell. "Ugh!" she huffed in frustration. And she had thought that his other Boy Scout tendencies were infuriating.
Clark blew out the fire and flew away from the scene before anyone even knew he was there.
He could hear the shouts of onlookers calling out to him as he blazed off through the sky, headed back to the Planet. As he flew, he pondered what had just happened. It seemed a little more than coincidental that at the exact time he'd experienced that 'black out', the clone Superman had shown up.
Shown up and done nothing. It was almost as if the clone had merely shown up to make him, Superman, look bad. But why? What was the purpose? How had they incapacitated him? And more importantly, who was behind it? He knew the one person he suspected.
He had always suspected that Luthor was the one behind the original clone. Who else had the money, technology, and resources to personally fund a project like that? He remembered his first conversation with the clone --
<"Who are you?"
"I don't want to talk, you're my enemy..."
"Why would you say that?"
"I'm the most powerful man in the universe. You've outlived your usefulness."
"Who told you these things?"
Could Luthor have been the 'father' the clone was referring to?
<"Might is right...">
That certainly sounded like something Luthor would say. And the thought of Luthor being responsible for the cloning made him nervous, to say the least.
But what troubled him even more was what had caused him to black out like that? Had someone done something to him? He hadn't really ever passed out before, except after that first time he had been exposed to Kryptonite in his dad's barn. But even then, he had only passed out from the unexpected pain that had accompanied the exposure. The next time, when Trask had exposed him to it, he had fought against the pain. He had been ready for it.
This -- whatever it had been -- wasn't Kryptonite. It wasn't something he had been prepared for.
Clark landed on the roof of the Daily Planet and cautiously changed, before making his way back down the stairwell to Lois.
Only she wasn't there.
Clark walked over to the vendor. "Did Lois..."
"Leave? Yep. She said she was tired of waiting for you and that if you wanted to catch up with her, you could go to her Uncle Mike's diner." The vendor handed a slip of paper to Clark. "That's the address."
Uncle Mike's diner? He didn't even realize she had an uncle living in the city, much less one who owned a diner. "Thanks," Clark said, tucking the paper into his coat pocket.
Why had she gone to her uncle's diner?
Clark sighed. Lois was mad. He had seen it written plainly on her face when he had arrived at the small, homey diner. There were so many times he'd had to run off and play Superman, leaving her waiting for him with nothing but a lousy excuse for an explanation.
And this one appeared to have been the straw that broke the camel's back.
After the awkward silence, in which Lois hadn't introduced Clark to the man standing beside her, he extended his hand in greeting. "Hi, Clark Kent."
"Mike Lane," her uncle replied, clasping his hand firmly. "Lois tells me that you work at the Daily Planet with her."
Clark nodded. He wondered what else she had told her uncle.
"I paged my niece and asked her to meet me here because I have some information for her about Superman. Or rather, one of my customers has information."
Information about Superman? Clark felt his palms start to sweat. What kind of information? "Are they here right now?"
Mike shook his head. "No. He wanted me to arrange a meeting with the two of you." He pointed to a piece of paper Lois was holding in her hand. "Lois has the details. Let me know if there's anything else I can do to help."
"Thanks, Uncle Mike," Lois told him, giving him an affectionate embrace. She turned and walked out of the diner, without so much as a word to Clark.
Clark sighed again. It had already been a long day and it wasn't even noon yet -- the day was going to get so much longer. "Thank you, Mr. Lane."
"Please, call me Mike," he said with a pleasant smile.
Clark nodded with a smile of his own. "Thanks, Mike." He turned and chased after Lois, catching the door before it shut in his face. "Lois! Lois, wait!"
"No. No, I'm through waiting for you today, Clark," she said with obvious disgust in her tone. "Superman is in trouble, he needs our help, and you're worried about pencils? And press passes?"
"I know, I'm sorry," he entreated as he followed behind her. "Do you think your uncle's source will be useful?" he asked, hoping to change the subject. "I wonder what kind of information he has about Superman? When are we supposed to meet him?"
That caused Lois to pause; she stopped and turned to face him. Irritation was flushing her cheeks. "We? No, Clark. There is you and there is me. This time, there is definitely no 'we'. I'm gonna go this one alone."
Clark bit his lip, keeping any further retort to himself. She needed space. She was mad and she didn't want him around right now. He was sure she'd cool down later. "Okay. I'll see what I can dig up on my end and come by your apartment later tonight. We can compare notes."
She was shaking her head. "Nope. Sorry. I have a date with Lex tonight. I'm going to go meet with Bobby, take care of a few other things, and then go home and get ready for my date."
A sharp pain settled into Clark's chest. Not Luthor! He knew the two of them were dating, but if she only knew the truth about him. Clark felt a twinge of jealousy mixed with a little irritation and he found himself saying something he would have never imagined. "Now look who's running off." Her look of indignation spurred him on. "You said yourself that Superman needs our help and you're gonna run off and go on a date? Wow. I never thought I'd see the day that you'd put Luthor before Superman."
He wanted to slap himself as soon as he said it, but it was too late to take it back.
Lois's eyes had widened in surprise. "What?" she squeaked indignantly. "Clark Kent, if we weren't partners, and friends, I'd... I'd..." She paused briefly, as if to compose herself, and then narrowed her eyes. "No one cares about Superman more than me." She poked him in the chest with her finger. "But my life revolves around more than just Superman, and Lex is a part of that life. I know you don't like him, Clark, for whatever concocted reasons that are your own, but I like him and he likes me." She sighed a short breath before continuing, "At least I know where I stand with him." And then she turned around and stalked off without another word.
She didn't realize that she was speaking to Superman.
Her words cut him to the core, but Clark realized she was right. She didn't know where she stood with Superman. And part of that was because Clark had tried not to reciprocate her feelings when he was dressed in the red and blue. He wanted her as Clark, not Superman. But somehow, 'Clark' always seemed to get left out of the equation.
If only she knew how hard it was for him not to use his alter ego to get what he wanted.
Clark watched her go, his heart heavy.
Lois curled her lip in disgust as she watched the man sitting in the front seat of her Jeep inhale the contents of the bag she had brought as an inducement. Her uncle had told her that the word on the street was that Bobby Bigmouth had the best gossip, the juiciest tidbits, of anyone out there.
The only trick was getting him to talk.
But he would talk if the price was right. And the price was always food. Bobby apparently couldn't get enough of food -- and not the cheap stuff either. Uncle Mike said the man was a connoisseur of all things edible.
Although, by the way he was inhaling the delicacies she had brought him, that estimation of him was up for debate.
"So, how do you know my uncle?" she asked conversationally, trying not to appear either rude or impatient.
"Are you kidding?" he asked, as he gulped down another mouthful of rich cream-covered pasta. At her stone-faced expression, he continued, "You aren't kidding." He cleared his throat. "Your uncle has some of the best desserts in town. His New York style cheesecake is to die for. You're telling me that you didn't know that already?"
"I don't eat dessert."
He raised one eyebrow at her. "Really? Awww, Lois, you're missing the best part."
"So I've been told," she mumbled, and then continued a little louder, "So you met my uncle eating at his diner, then. How is it you came upon information about Superman? And what exactly is it that you know?"
"Oh, please, don't insult me, Lois," he complained. "First of all, I know how good of a reporter you are. And judging from the bag you've got tucked away under your front seat, you already knew how good your uncle's desserts are." He licked some sauce off his fingers. "My fee is dinner *and* dessert. Now, cough it up."
Lois scowled at him as she fished the bag out from under her seat. How had he known it was down there? She shoved the bag at him and he took it greedily, opening it immediately.
"Cheesecake! Aww, you shouldn't have." Bobby opened the box and began to devour the decadent dessert.
"Now spill," Lois commanded him.
"All right, all right, sheesh, can't a guy even eat in peace?" At her growl, he threw his hands up in surrender. "Okay, I bet you're thinking that there's something fishy going on with Superman and these recent 'incidents'."
She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, that's pretty much a no-brainer. Everyone's trying to get to the bottom of it."
He shook his head. "Not everyone." Lois raised an eyebrow and he continued, "Ask around, not one of the reporters working under any of LexCorp's subsidiaries is trying to get to the bottom of it. Not one person from LNN or any of the other news stations that Luthor owns stock in. Nada. All they're reporting on is what Superman is doing wrong. Not 'why' it's happening. Thank god some people still read newspapers and don't buy into everything they're force-fed by the television media."
Lois frowned. "And this is what I spent a third of my paycheck buying food for? I could have noticed that on my own," she complained.
"Ah, but you didn't. And since you and the pretentious playboy billionaire have gotten so close, lately, I was afraid you might not have seen the forest for the one big tree."
Lois was irritated by his description of Lex, but also his estimation of her. "You're forgetting one important detail. Lex doesn't own every television station in town. He owns LNN and..."
"And he's on half the other stations' board of trustees. He also donates money as a sponsor to some of them or LexCorp dumps large amounts of cash as an advertiser." Bobby smirked. "Trust me, Lois, I've done my homework. Besides, that's not all..."
She could feel her temper rising and was tempted to reach out and snatch the sacks of food away from him. "Really? You mean there's more?" she exclaimed sarcastically. The nerve of this guy trying to insinuate that Lex could somehow be involved in this, and that she would be so blind as to not see anything past the end of her own nose!
"Hey, you don't want the info that you've paid for?" He shrugged. "No skin off my teeth, Lois. But don't complain when I pass it along to someone else."
Lois reached out and grabbed the cheesecake away from him, eliciting a cry of protest from him. "Spill it, Bobby," she warned before handing the decadent treat back to him.
He gave her a wide, condescending grin. "My sources informed me that there was a black sedan parked nearby, both at the bank early this morning, and at the scene of the fire. And once Superman left, the sedan left."
"Big deal. Black sedans are a dime a dozen in Metropolis," she smarted.
"Not in these neighborhoods, Lois. And certainly not a 'stretch'."
Lois frowned. No. A black sedan was one thing. A stretch limo? That was entirely something different. "So that's it?" she grumbled.
"For this?" he said, gesturing at the now empty food containers. "Yeah. But keep in touch. I might have some more details for you later. You bring the food, I'll bring the info."
"I'll keep that in mind," she muttered, watching Bobby get out of the Jeep. "And exactly how do I get in contact with you?"
"Don't worry. I'll be in contact with you," he assured her. "But if you really want to find me, you can leave word with your uncle. See ya round, Lois."
And then Bobby Bigmouth was gone and Lois was left sitting there, shaking her head. So much for that informant. She didn't see how he would ever turn out to be a very good source.
Lois was driving, on her way to her apartment, when three police cars went speeding past her in the opposite direction. She slammed on the brakes, squealing her tires a little, and turned around. Something was going on. Something newsworthy. And if she was lucky, either Superman or his clone would show up.
If she was really, really lucky, they both would.
She didn't have any trouble keeping up. After all, she had always prided herself on her driving skills. And honestly, she didn't have to worry about getting a ticket since all the cops in the area were busy, running off to whatever emergency was happening.
Damn. She wished she had a scanner, where she could listen to the calls coming in over the police radios. But soon enough, she arrived at the scene, just behind the police. It was a bank. Another robbery? Was it the clone again? How many banks did he need to rob? His first one had scored him over a million.
But then a group of thugs came bursting out through the front doors of the bank. There were three of them. Large, angry-looking teenagers, by her guess.
And then *he* was there. Superman landed on the ground just in front of them, in time to deflect a couple of shots that one of the teens had squeezed off in the direction of the nearest squad car. The bullets bounced harmlessly off Superman's chest. He scowled unhappily at the trio.
Lois frowned. Was it Superman? Or was it his clone?
"Was it worth it?" he asked the boys. "You're going to spend a lot of time in prison for this and..."
"You've got to be kidding me!" the smallest thug of the group said, interrupting him. "You're actually here to arrest us for a crime that you've committed yourself?" he continued indignantly. "Talk about a hypocrite!"
"I don't know what you *think* happened at that bank," Superman said, his voice icy, "but *I* did not rob it."
Oh good, Lois let out a sigh of relief. Not the clone. *This* was Superman.
"Oh, yeah?" chimed in another boy. "I think you're no different than us. No, wait. You are. You're invulnerable. You can do whatever you want and not even worry about getting hurt. Just fly in, take what you want, and fly out."
"Yeah!" the last boy -- the one who'd fired the gun -- cried out. "You're nothing but a fraud and a liar! A flying joke in brightly colored tights! You freak!"
Then Lois saw something that scared her. Superman's eyes darkened and she heard what she thought was a growl escape from his lips -- it sent a shiver down her spine. He strode over to the boys, snatched the gun away from the one boy, hitting him smartly across the head with it, and then took the other two boys and thumped their heads together -- effectively knocking the entire group unconscious. The boy he had hit with the gun had a thin trail of blood sliding down his head from the injury.
"No!" Lois yelled at him. Her earlier conclusion changed -- this was definitely not Superman. He would never have struck out in such anger. But she had seen his clone pick up criminals before and toss them in the back of a police van.
At her outburst, the clone turned to look at her, a strange expression of confusion on his face.
Lois shook her head at him. "You can't do that! You can't hurt people!" she chastised him. "I know who you are. Superman has dealt with someone like you before, and he can do it again. So you'd better watch out because he'll be looking for you." She stopped her tirade and wondered briefly, where was Superman now? He'd had plenty of time to respond to this robbery. And surely he was out looking for the clone who seemed insistent on dragging his name through the mud. Why wasn't he here?
"Lois?" the clone asked.
How did he know her name? He looked bewildered and disorientated, and that made Lois feel uneasy. The clone started to walk towards her and she took a few steps back. Oh god, why didn't she keep her mouth shut sometimes? She looked up at the sky and said a silent prayer -- Superman, please come.
"Lois, I..." the clone began.
"Superman, put your hands in the air," one of the police officers said, stepping between the clone and Lois, "and walk towards me, slowly. You're under arrest for the robbery of the First Metropolis Bank."
The clone's look of confusion melted away into a look of outrage. Uh-oh, Lois thought, continuing to back away until she could put a squad car between her and the clone -- like that was going to do any good.
"What?" the clone growled at the officer.
"You have the right to remain silent," the officer continued doggedly, a slight tremble in his voice.
"Silent?" the clone raged. "What's next? Are you going to tell me that I have the right to an attorney? Do you honestly think you have any power over me?" He snorted. "I've probably saved your life before. Or the life of one of your friends. You *owe* me!" The clone lifted up, hovering in the air above them like some sort of demigod, holding out his arms as if to encompass the group. "Did I rob a bank? If I did, I *deserved* that money, for everything I've done for this city. For all the banks I've protected before. Property damage I've averted. Lives that I've saved." He chuffed out a haughty laugh. "Do you honestly think you can do what I can? *No one* can do what I can. Certainly not the lazy bunch of bums working for the Metropolis PD. No one!" He sent a burst of air at the group of police officers, blowing them back and knocking them off their feet, before taking off in a flash, speeding away through the sky in a multi-colored blur.
Lois laid a shaky hand on the police car in front of her, which had shielded her from his breath. She stood up and looked in the direction that he had flown.
But something else drew her attention.
A black sedan -- make that a stretch limo -- was pulling away and driving off. Lois raised an eyebrow. Maybe there was more to Bobby's info than she had initially given him credit for.
Clark paced as best he could in the tight confines of his apartment. He had just gotten off the phone with his parents. They were worried for him, naturally, and not only because their son had another clone. It scared them to learn that Clark was having blackouts and didn't know why. That was bad enough in itself, they'd said, but it was worse when your son was Superman and someone was causing the blackouts intentionally...
His parents had tried to be encouraging, even asking if he wanted them to come to Metropolis and stay with him for a while. But it was a busy time around the farm right now and, besides that, he knew it would only upset them to be here in the midst of all the rumors and accusations. He would spare them that. Back in Kansas things wouldn't be as ugly as they were here. Superman's name was being dragged through the mud on every television station and half the newspaper headlines from one end of the city to the other. By the time the evening news hit, he was sure it would be a top story both nationally and internationally.
'Superman or Super Fraud?'
That headline had been his favorite. How could people turn on him so quickly? And then there was Lois...
Clark sighed deeply. Tired of dodging furniture, he floated up to the ceiling, where he could pace unimpeded -- except by the occasional light fixture.
How could Lois go on a date with Luthor tonight? She would normally jump all over a story as big as the one involving Superman. In fact, she would normally jump all over anything related to Superman. Big story or not. Now that Superman needed her, she was running out on him to go spend the evening with his archenemy?
Clark shook his head. He was so muddled he was beginning to *think* of himself in the third person.
But the fact was that if Lois was choosing Luthor over everything else that was going on right now, then Luthor had become a very important part of her life. Too important. He sighed again. She just didn't understand how dangerous Luthor was. Clark couldn't get her to see it because he didn't have any proof to give her. And it really wasn't Superman's place to get involved. Besides, she should believe Clark. Or at least be willing to listen to him. He was her friend and her partner. He looked out for her. Why shouldn't she believe him? Trust in him?
He threw his hands up -- or actually down -- in the air, in frustration. Part of him wanted to fly over to Lois's apartment right now and tell her exactly the kind of man she was dating. But if he did that, it would only embarrass her and further weaken her faith in herself. She had been in a few bad relationships in the past -- because she hadn't been able to see the men for who they had really been. Clark wanted to help her; not show it to her, but help her to see it for herself. Superman couldn't do that, but Clark could. He would keep trying. He had to.
Running a hand through his hair, he shut his eyes and tried to clear his mind. He needed to put this out of his thoughts and focus on the problems with Superman right now. He had spent so much time stewing over Lois today that he'd even managed to lose track of time. Part of the afternoon had disappeared and he didn't even know where it had gone.
What he needed to do was get out there and find that clone. But he didn't really know where to look for him. And after all the allegations flying around that Superman had robbed that bank, Clark wasn't even sure that Superman should be seen too much right now -- at least until he could prove that he was innocent.
But since he couldn't prove that right now, maybe he could at least begin trying to find out what had been stolen. Clark floated back down to his couch and picked up his phone, dialing Henderson's number. When Henderson had turned a copy of the video surveillance tape over to Clark and Lois, he had told them that they could check back later in the day to find out the specifics of what was missing. The only info that had been released so far was that over a million in bank assets had been stolen. Maybe something traceable had been taken.
"Henderson? It's Clark Kent." He reached over and grabbed a pad and pen from his coffee table.
"Kent? I'm kind of busy right now, what do you need?"
"You said I could call back to see what had been..."
"Oh yeah, the bank. Besides some cash and smaller gems, what made up the bulk of the assets was one big ticket item, a diamond."
Clark frowned. "A diamond? Can you give me the specifics?"
"Yeah, it wasn't just any diamond. It was a three-carat D FL-IF Princess cut."
Clark wrote down the info. "Uh, I have to tell you. I'm not sure what half of that means."
Henderson chuffed a laugh from the other end of the line. "Me either, Kent. At least, not at first. I was later informed that the 'D' refers to the color of the diamond. D is absolutely colorless, which is extremely rare for a diamond that size. FL-IF stands for 'flawless' and 'internally flawless'. So as far as diamonds go, this one is about as perfect as they come. A European museum was in the process of procuring it from a reputed gemologist in Metropolis. He had it in one of the safe-deposit boxes along with some smaller gems. Sorry I can't give you more right now, Kent, but I've gotta go."
"Thanks, Henderson." Clark hung up the phone.
What would his clone want with a diamond?
Lois hung up the phone and looked at herself in the bedroom mirror. Part of her really wanted to cancel her date with Lex tonight. He was supposed to be taking her to some really great Italian restaurant. But her heart just wasn't in it. Her heart was with Superman, wherever he was.
She wished he would come to her; confide in her about what was going on. She couldn't imagine what he must be feeling right now. The people he cared about, had fought for on a daily basis, had turned their backs on him. Just like that. Newspaper headlines condemning Superman and news reports calling for him to turn himself in to the police -- demanding justice -- turned her stomach. Why were people always so willing to believe the worst?
But there wasn't really anything more she could do tonight. She had just got off the phone with her uncle and left word for Bobby Bigmouth. She was going to have to wait until Bobby decided to contact her. And since she had told Clark *not* to come over tonight to work on the story... that meant, unless she wanted to stay home and sulk, that she might as well go out with Lex.
Sure, she could call Clark and tell him that she had changed her mind -- that he could come over. But part of her liked the thought of making him stew a little. Let him think about how he was always running off and what it meant to be partners...
And know that she was out on a date with Lex.
She knew Clark didn't like Lex. He had it in his head that Lex was evil. It upset him that she didn't believe him, but how could she? He didn't have any proof. It was all just wild speculations on his part.
In fact, more than once, she had wondered if it could be jealousy. But why? Clark was her best friend. He knew that -- didn't he? And they would still be friends, and partners, even if things got more serious with Lex.
It couldn't possibly be because he thought of her as more than a friend? No. How ridiculous. He had made it clear to her that he wasn't attracted to her like that. When they'd been sprayed with the pheromone a few months back, he hadn't reacted to her advances. No -- quite the opposite. He had rebuffed them.
In any event, whatever he felt for her, he still didn't have the right to run out on her whenever he felt like it. Lois frowned. She was tired of men running out on her. She had promised herself a long time ago that she wouldn't let it happen again, but yet she was allowing Clark to do it to her.
No. No she wasn't. She had called him on it today. That's why she had not allowed him to come over tonight, and why she was going on this date with Lex, instead of working with Clark on the story.
With renewed zeal for her evening, she blotted her lips on a napkin and took one last look at herself in the mirror.
She was ready.
Lois stared at Lex, dumbfounded. She wasn't ready. Not for this. Not yet.
The evening had been one surprise after another. First, Lex's limousine had taken them to the airport where they had boarded his private jet. Lex had been tight-lipped about where they were going until finally, once they were airborne, he had spilled it to her. The Italian restaurant he was taking her to was actually *in* Italy!
If that hadn't blown her mind enough -- a man who could literally fly her anywhere she wanted to go, at merely her whim -- he had gone and proposed to her.
He was still smiling at her, waiting for her response, holding the gargantuan diamond ring out enticingly.
"Lex, I... I don't know what to say," she stammered.
"Well, there are only three possible choices. Yes, no, or maybe."
"It's not that simple," she continued doggedly. "What about my life at the Daily Planet? I mean, Clark and Perry and Jimmy -- they're like family..."
"Well, I believe in families, large ones." He smiled indulgently at her and she smiled nervously in return.
This was all happening too fast. "Lex, these last few weeks with you have been wonderful. But I hardly know you."
He leaned forward, closing the distance between them. "The only thing you need to know about me is that I love you."
The only thing? Hardly. She looked away from him, unsure of what to say. What Bobby had told her and the image of the black limo at the robbery earlier that day flashed through her mind.
"What?" Lex asked. "What is it?" He moved over to sit closer to her. "Is there something else? Could it have anything to do with Superman?"
Lois gave him a sheepish look. Yes, it had a lot to do with Superman. On more than one level. She did her best to conceal a blush as she muddled on, "I... uh... it's... it's just a lot to take in."
"But you'll give it some thought," he persisted.
"Yes," she admitted. How could she not? She imagined it would be dominating almost every thought she had, until she could give him an answer or he decided to ask for one. She gave him a flustered smile, completely blown away by the whole situation. Putting everything else aside -- here was one of the world's richest and most eligible bachelors and he was proposing to her! To her -- Lois Lane! It was unimaginable! What would Lucy think? What would Cat think?
What would Clark think?
"So, then it's a maybe?" he pressed.
She laughed to hide the baffling guilt that she was suddenly feeling. "Oh... well... maybe. Yeah, maybe," she hesitantly agreed and then eyed the magnificent diamond ring that he still held between his fingers. It had to be several carats. It was huge! And one of the most stunning stones she had ever seen. "It is beautiful."
He shook his head. "Without you, it's a piece of rock." He smiled handsomely at her. "On your hand, it's priceless to me."
Lois blushed. Wow. What a line. She wondered if he had practiced it beforehand.
Lex's phone began ringing and he excused himself to answer it, leaving her to her thoughts -- although her mind was spinning so much that she hardly knew what to think.
But one thought finally came through clearly again.
What *would* Clark think?
Clark watched dumbfounded as Jimmy and Jack stared at the pink slips of paper they had been handed, informing them that they no longer had jobs.
Perry had announced only a few hours earlier that the paper was in financial trouble. When asked what this could mean, besides a few people's paychecks not clearing, Perry had admitted that there had been talks about layoffs. But Clark hadn't thought it would come this soon. And he hadn't thought in a million years that it would affect Jimmy or Jack.
"They really are pink," Jimmy noted in amazement.
Jack smacked him lightly and then frowned. "Well, guess it's back to a life of crime for me."
At Lois's frown, Jack continued with a teasing smile, "It's always good to have something to fall back on."
Clark gave him a light swat to the chest with the back of his hand and then looked up as another Planet employee walked by, shaking his head at the pink slip he was holding.
"It's a massacre," Jack observed quietly.
"It's all happening so fast!" Lois said unhappily.
"Or maybe not," Clark interjected. "Lois, you remember what Perry said yesterday about the sponsors. Maybe this has been coming for a while. Management could have been having money problems for a long time -- the employees are always the last to know."
Lois frowned. "Yeah? Well, I could still talk to Perry about it. For Jimmy and Jack."
Clark nodded. "We both could."
Jack shook his head and Jimmy chimed in, "No, it's not his fault. He would have prevented it if he could. Besides, he probably feels bad enough as it is."
Lois crossed her arms. "We've gotta strike back. We need to do some polling. People in printing, maintenance, distribution, administration, news-staffers, even accounting. Only drastic action will convince the board we aren't fooling around."
Clark tilted his head to one side in disbelief. "Are you talking about a full scale walkout?"
"If that's what it takes," she replied adamantly. "I, for one, refuse to accept these indignities lying down."
When she turned to walk off, Jimmy and Jack glanced at each other, amused quirks on their faces. Clark joined in with a grin of his own, which quickly vanished as Lois turned back around.
She raised a warning finger and lifted an eyebrow. "Don't even think about it."
The boys looked chastised and Clark puffed out a laugh. They needed to take their laughs were they could get them.
Lois glanced over at Clark. Now that the shock of what had happened earlier that morning was wearing off a little, Lois remembered that she had planned on talking to Clark when she had come in this morning. But where should they talk? Should they just go into the conference room and close the door? Should they leave the office? Maybe go for an early lunch?
Part of her was dreading telling him. She wasn't even sure why she was so intent on sharing this with him. Why was it his business that Luthor had proposed to her?
Because he's your friend. Your best friend -- and your partner.
She sighed. She hated that little voice in her head sometimes. But it was right. He deserved to know, and to hear it from her first, before it could slip out somehow.
Lois got up from her chair and was headed over to Clark's desk, trying out a hundred different variations in her mind of how to begin and what to say, when Perry walked out of his office.
"Listen up, kids," Perry's voice boomed, capturing everyone's attention. Lois stopped walking and her eye caught Clark's as they both turned to hear what Perry had to say. "I just got a call from upstairs that we can all expect an announcement, just about... now."
Almost on cue, the elevator door pinged. Lois turned towards the sound and was astonished to see Lex come walking out -- in grand style.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Lex addressed the newsroom.
"Lex?" Lois said his name in astonishment. He had an entourage of people with him. What was this all about? Hopefully not her.
"For those of you who don't know me, my name is Lex Luthor," he introduced himself, all business. Lois felt relief -- it didn't seem like it was about her. "I, no less than you, have been greatly distressed by the sea of troubles that has mired Metropolis's one great newspaper."
Clark walked up beside Lois, frowning as he listened.
Lex began pacing as he continued speaking, "I don't know why your advertisers have abandoned you," he continued. "Or why circulation is down. I don't know why your banks have cut off your lines of credit. I don't know why your cash reserves were depleted by unnecessary expenditures, though I have my suspicions." He paused and sent a knowing look behind him to a beautiful and exotic woman that was accompanying him. Lois eyed the woman -- who was she? Some kind of assistant?
Wait -- Lois frowned -- he had suspicions? What was that supposed to mean?
"But I do know," he went on, "that your problems can be solved with strong leadership and fiscal responsibility." He began walking again, moving down the ramp towards the newsroom floor. "So therefore, I have taken the one step necessary that would guarantee the future of this great newspaper." He paused for dramatic effect, a contented look on his face. "I bought it." His face broke into a smile. "I'm the new owner of the Daily Planet."
Lois's frown turned into a smile. If anyone had the resources and money to back the Planet, Lex certainly did. She felt a little guilty now for thinking that he could have been involved in... well, whatever was going on with that black limo -- she didn't even know if that limo belonged to him, for crying out loud. And here he was, about to save one of the most important parts of her life.
She had been listening to Clark too much lately.
When Lex's smiling face caught hers, she grinned widely at him in return.
"Today begins a new era," he announced. "I promise no interference. Only a few minor modifications and no lay-offs! Why tamper with greatness?"
The newsroom broke out in thunderous applause.
"Happy days are here again. Woo-hoo!" Jimmy said enthusiastically.
"Presses will roll," Lex said, shaking Perry White's hand.
"This is a great thing you've done," Perry said appreciatively.
Lois turned to Clark. "This is wonderful!"
"It's a disaster," Clark said with a frown before turning to walk back to his desk.
Lois followed him, glaring at his back. "Clark, can't you give up this idea that Lex Luthor is the root of all evil in Metropolis?"
Clark scowled at her. "Why should I give it up, Lois? It's true!" He angrily snatched up a pen and began examining the document on his desk.
"No, it's not true. Give him some credit. Lex just saved our jobs, not to mention..." She broke off, realizing she was entering dangerous territory. She couldn't just blurt it out like that.
Clark glanced back up at her, an exasperated look on his face. "Not to mention what?"
No. No, no, no. This wasn't how she had wanted to do it.
Clark was waiting expectantly and she let out a soft sigh. "Not to mention... he... asked me to marry him." The last couple of words were barely audible.
The shock on Clark's face made her want to turn away. That hadn't gone the way she had planned at all and now she had no idea what to say to him. She began to turn around, hoping to seek refuge at her desk.
"So where's the ring?" he asked suddenly, cutting off her retreat.
She swallowed before turning back to look at him. "I haven't given him an answer yet."
That last word -- yet -- hung in the air between them. Clark would come back to it, but first, he had to know something. "Did you see the ring?"
"Did you see the engagement ring?" he repeated intently.
She furrowed her brow at him. "Of course I did, why?" Where was he going with this?
"What did it look like?"
"Why does it matter, Clark?" she asked exasperatedly.
Clark hesitated and she gave him a look that could pierce steel -- he knew because it was boring right through him. "I spoke with Henderson," he explained, "and one of the items, the most expensive item that was stolen, was taken from a safe deposit box. It was a three carat diamond."
Lois rolled her eyes and puffed out a breath in disbelief. "You've got to be kidding me."
"Incredible," Clark replied in disbelief, shaking his head.
"What?" she snapped.
"You!" he retorted, standing up from his chair. "Prize-winning investigative reporter." The look on her face told him that she still didn't get it. "How can you be so blind, Lois? I mean, you look right at the guy and still you don't have a clue who he really is."
"Look, Clark, I'm not naïve," she told him, trying to find a way to reason with him. She sat down in the chair next to his desk, hoping not to cause any more of a scene than they already had. When Clark sat down in his own chair, she continued in a low voice, "I know that Lex did not reach his station in life by being a nice guy..."
Clark snorted. "That's an understatement."
"Why do you think he's so bad?" she said, thoroughly annoyed.
"Why do you think he's so good?" he retorted.
"Well, for one thing, look at all the good he's done for the city -- Luthor hospital, Luthor home for children, Luthor foundation for the arts... not to mention employing hundreds of thousands of people in Metropolis. Oh, and let's not forget, most recently saving our jobs." Clark looked like he wanted to protest but she pushed on. "Think about it, Clark. He doesn't need to *steal* a diamond."
"No, he doesn't *need* to," Clark muttered under his breath.
"Look, Lois, he only does those good things as cover. He..."
"Why?" she interrupted. "If he's such a rotten human being, why bother?"
"Because that's what he enjoys most, getting away with it. The same reason why he would steal a diamond even though he has the money and the means to buy it outright." Why couldn't she see it? "The man is more than just evil, Lois. He's a monster."
Lois shook her head and pushed away from his desk, standing up. "I'm not going to listen to this. Especially not now."
Clark's blood ran like ice water through his veins. He was losing the battle. Please, he thought silently, don't let him lose the war. "Wait... you aren't actually considering his proposal, are you?"
Lois paused. His voice had a quality of desperation to it... of fear. Good. Let him worry. How dare he insinuate that the man who had proposed to her was a monster! That her engagement ring was nothing more than that man's attempt to see what evil he could get away with. Because, of course, no one like Lex could fall in love with someone like Lois for any other reason than pure evil. "I don't know, Clark," she said flippantly. "I'm thinking about it." At his hurt expression, she softened a little. "That's all... I'm just thinking about it." She walked away without giving him a chance to reply. She needed some space.
She needed some answers.
Clark watched Lois walk towards the conference room where Lex had already begun to set up temporary shop, feeling like he had just been sucker-punched. No! It couldn't be true. She couldn't honestly be considering Lex's proposal, could she?
He had to go after her. It was time to make her understand just who Luthor really was -- even if that meant telling her things that Clark Kent couldn't possibly know. He stood up from his chair to walk over to her desk...
And the sound of a bank alarm began blaring in his ears.
*Another* bank robbery? No, not now!
Clark dithered for a moment, not wanting to leave Lois and almost afraid to show himself in public as Superman, but he couldn't risk not going. What if the clone showed up? He had to go.
He gave Lois one last fleeting glance as she walked into the conference room -- into the lion's den -- and then he took off for the stairwell.
Lois opened the door to the conference room and peeked inside. Lex was perched on the corner of the table with the phone to his ear. He looked up at the sound of the door and waved at Lois to come in.
"Thank you, Mrs. Cox. Please call me with the results." He hung up and smiled broadly.
"Mrs. Cox?" Lois asked. "Is she the lady who..."
"Who was with me earlier? Yes. She is my assistant and a very good one at that." He got up from the table and walked toward her. "What can I do for you, my dear?"
"Oh, um..." Lois was suddenly at a loss for words. She had come in here to ask for a favor, but with everything that had happened between them recently, she was suddenly unsure about asking for his help.
"You did come in here looking for me, didn't you?" he asked with a soft smile. "Did you perhaps have something you wanted to tell me?"
Lois fidgeted. "No. I mean... not yet," she stammered. "I, uh... I actually had something I wanted to ask you. A favor."
He raised one eyebrow curiously. "Oh? Well, ask."
She cleared her throat. "I wanted to talk to you about an article that I'm trying to write."
"I see," he said with a nod. "Isn't this something that you should talk to Perry about?"
"Yes. But Perry... well, he was a little concerned that management wouldn't go for it. But I thought if I could..."
"Get me to sign off on it and give you the go ahead that it would be okay?" he ventured.
She nodded, biting at her lip. That sounded bad, didn't it? It sounded like a kid who was going behind one parent's back to ask the other parent's permission to do something. "I know how that sounds. But it is very important to me and..."
"What is the article about?"
She swallowed nervously.
<Does this have anything to do with Superman?>
He had asked her that after her reluctance to give him an answer to his proposal. Would that affect his willingness to back her on the story? Well, there was nothing she could do about that. Lex was her one chance to publish something that might help Superman's foundering reputation right now. "Superman."
He nodded, understanding lighting up his face. "I'm assuming you're hoping to publish something that would give an explanation for what's been happening lately?"
"Yes. You see, I sort of concealed a few things that happened to Superman a while back," she admitted, shifting uneasily on her feet. "Information that could prove that it's not really him doing these things."
Lex cocked one eyebrow. "Lois, I'm surprised. What did you conceal?"
"Information pertaining to a..." she paused, trying to decide how to say it and hoping that he wouldn't think she was insane. There wasn't anyway to temper it, she just had to put it out there. "A clone."
"A clone?" he said, his voice brimming with surprise.
"Yes. Someone cloned Superman," she confirmed and then, before he could interrupt, she quickly continued, "I know what you're thinking..."
"I really doubt that," he interrupted.
"You're thinking it sounds farfetched or unbelievable since cloning techniques haven't even been tried on a human -- much less on someone like Superman." She just couldn't bring herself to use the word 'alien'. Superman just wasn't 'alien' to her. "But it's the truth. I saw the clone with my own two eyes. I saw him have a confrontation with Superman. He was real."
"I see," he said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "And whatever happened to this clone?"
"He died," she said softly. "I think whoever cloned him didn't have the process down, yet. Superman said that the clone asked him to dispose of his body and he did."
"So, then, you believe that another clone has been created? One that is carrying out these dark events of the past few days?"
"Yes," she confirmed resolutely.
"Do you have any proof?"
Lois flinched. Why did everyone keep asking her that? "No. That's what Perry asked me. But I would make sure that the article pointed out that this was a possible 'theory'. And Clark can corroborate my information on the existence of the original clone."
"Please, Lex," she implored, hating resorting to pleading and unhappy with the thought that she was going to feel like she 'owed' Lex, if he helped her out with this. She didn't like to be indebted to anyone. "I have to help him. Everyone has turned against him and surely you realize how much he's done for this city... and how much he needs our help, now."
"I agree. He certainly does need help. Although my opinion might differ on the kind of help he needs."
Lois frowned. "What do you mean?"
He sighed softly. "I mean that I'm not sure I buy into the whole clone theory, even if what you're saying is true and there was a clone. Is it so difficult to believe that Superman could be responsible for what's happening?"
"Yes!" she exclaimed in disbelief. "It's damn near impossible to believe!"
"Really?" he asked with a smile. "Because he's your hero and you don't want to believe that your hero could have fallen? Maybe this is the real Superman? Maybe he just couldn't keep up that perfect façade any more."
"No. I can't believe that."
"Can't? Or won't?" Lex asked pointedly.
Lois felt heat flushing her face and she tightened her jaw. "Superman stands for truth and justice. He is kind and good..."
"No one is that good, Lois. Not even Superman." He smiled at her and for some reason it sent chills down her spine.
"What about you, Lex? Are you that good?" She couldn't believe she had actually said that. She had sort of just mouthed it off on autopilot before she realized what she was saying.
It seemed to have taken Lex by surprise as well, but he soon composed himself. "Like I said -- no one is *that* good."
Lois felt like she suddenly didn't know which way was up. She had always believed that she was a good judge of people, of their character, but now she felt like she didn't truly know anyone.
The phone rang, splitting the deafening silence and causing Lois to jerk a little.
"Excuse me, Lois. I need to take this," Lex told her, picking up the phone. "Yes? Yes, hello, Mrs. Cox."
Mumbling about having taken up too much of Lex's time, Lois left the room and went back to her desk.
She had some serious thinking to do.
Clark sat down at his parents' kitchen table and ran a hand through his hair. "It felt like Kryptonite -- pain, weakness, dizziness..."
"But I thought it had all been destroyed?" Martha said, unable to hide the worry in her voice. "When you fought with that man, Trask."
"I know, Mom. I thought it was destroyed, too. But then I remembered the chunk that Mr. Irig sent off for testing at the University -- the one that disappeared."
"What are you going to do?" Jonathan asked him, his face lined with concern.
"I don't know. It's disturbing... and it seems highly coincidental that the bank wasn't really being robbed but, yet, there was Kryptonite there. Why?" He sighed thoughtfully. "I'm trying to limit my appearances as Superman, anyway, due to the charges being leveled against him... me... I'm just going to have to be extra careful."
"Maybe you should stay here for a while," Martha suggested.
Clark shook his head. "I can't do that. As worried as I was about that Kryptonite, I'm more worried about Lois right now." He sighed softly. "I don't believe that she'd actually accept his proposal, but the fact that she's even thinking about it..."
"You have to prevent it, Clark," Martha told him earnestly. "Knowing what you know about Luthor."
"Maybe it's time to do more than that," Clark said, his face betraying his apprehension.
After a few seconds of silence, his dad asked, "What is it, son?"
"Remember when you asked me what I wanted, when I first moved to Metropolis?"
"Yeah," Jonathan answered with a nod.
"I said I wanted a normal life," Clark continued. "To meet someone, raise a family, settle down..." He paused for a moment and then gave them a shy smile. "I know now that Lois is the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with."
Martha grinned and did her best to suppress a giggle. "You just figured that out? Your dad and I have known that from the first time you spoke about her."
Clark grinned awkwardly. "Maybe I did too, but I couldn't let myself..."
"Do you love her?" Jonathan interrupted.
"Then tell her," his dad urged him.
Clark frowned. "Tell her what? That I'm Superman?"
It was Jonathan's turn to frown. "That's got to be up to you..."
"But at least tell her how you feel," Martha said, jumping in. "If she feels the same, well..." She let out a soft chuckle. "It shouldn't take her too long to figure out that you're no ordinary man."
Jonathan joined her in a small laugh and Clark's cheeks grew red. "Mom!" he complained.
But she and his dad were right. He had to at least tell her how he felt. Maybe even work up the courage to tell her *everything*, but he'd take one step at a time.
Lois was surprised that the activity of the morning had allowed her to forget that she was expecting a phone call. When her phone rang, she answered it with all the enthusiasm of a sloth on a hot day. But when she heard Bobby Bigmouth's voice on the other end, she immediately sat up straight and fumbled for her pad and pencil.
"What have you got for me, Bobby?" she asked anxiously, immediately forgetting her other troubles for the moment.
"No, not on the phone, Lois. Meet me at your uncle's diner." And then, before she had a chance to say anything further, he hung up.
Lois frowned as she hung up her receiver and then stood up and grabbed her purse. She hurried up the ramp to the elevators and pushed the down button impatiently -- more than once.
When the door to the elevator opened, she was surprised to see Clark inside. "Where have you been?" she asked, her voice a little more acerbic than she meant for it to sound. But really. He had been gone all afternoon -- off gallivanting on one of his mysterious -- no, make that 'ridiculous' -- errands, no doubt.
"I had to go somewhere to think."
"Uh-huh," she muttered. "Well, I've gotta go somewhere to *work*," she said, pushing past him to board the elevator.
"We need to talk," Clark said softly.
"It will have to wait, I'm meeting with..."
"No, Lois. Now."
The firmness in his voice caught her off guard. "Sure," she stammered. "Um, where do you want to go?"
"How about the park? Is that on the way to your appointment?"
His voice was soft and imploring once more and Lois nodded. "Okay. Let's go."
Lois had been mostly silent on the short walk to the park. And now that they were here, Clark wasn't exactly sure how to begin. It wasn't something he could just blurt out, but he could tell she was getting impatient.
They had been walking quietly through the park for a few minutes when she finally asked, "What is it, Clark?"
They were approaching a bench and Clark took her hands and led her over to it. He sat down and she followed. Taking in a slow, even breath, he began, "Lois, when I thought about the possibility that you might actually be considering Luthor's proposal... I realized something."
She gave him a curious look but didn't interrupt.
"I realized that I could lose a lot of things and still be happy. If things got so tight at the Planet that I lost my job, I would be okay. If I didn't have the money to keep my apartment and I had to look for another place to stay, I would make it work. I could lose almost everything and still manage to press on. The one thing that I absolutely didn't want to live without... is you."
"Me?" she replied in confusion. "You aren't going to lose me, Clark. Even if I accept Lex's proposal, we would still work together, still be friends..."
"No, Lois, listen to me. That's not what I mean. I'm not talking about partners, or even friends. I'm talking about something... more. I'm talking about... us." He let out a shaky breath and steeled himself to go on. "I've been in love with you for a long time."
The shock in Lois's face made him pause for a moment, but then he continued, "You had to have known."
She was shaking her head. "I... No, I didn't know. I mean... I wasn't sure. I... well, I thought sometimes, maybe, you were attracted to me..." She smiled sadly. "But... Clark, I'm sorry. I just don't think about you in that way... I mean, romantically."
She stopped for a moment and thought about what she was saying. She didn't, did she? Then again, she didn't think about Lex that way, really, either. Did she think about anyone that way?
She knew the answer to that question before her mind had barely had time to think it. Yes. Yes, she did. She thought about Superman that way. And she suddenly knew what she had to find out.
Clark's face had fallen. He got up from the bench, running a hand through his hair, trying unsuccessfully to hide the disappointment flooding his face.
It pained her to think she had hurt him. "Clark, you're my best friend, the only partner I could ever stand to work with. I admire you, respect you, and I do love you..."
She couldn't bring herself to say 'as a friend.' It was just too cliché and even she had to admit that somehow it ran deeper than friendship alone. Maybe there was a slight attraction there -- even she couldn't deny what she had felt the time she'd seen him dressed in only a towel, his skin and hair still shimmering with water from his shower.
It was just that it wasn't the kind of attraction she felt for Superman. The strong feelings she had for him were definitely romantic. He was the man she dreamed about, fantasized about.
And she had to know how he felt about her. Before she could go any further... with anyone. She couldn't give up that fantasy until she knew. And really, how could anyone expect her to?
What woman could?
Clark was quiet as she pondered her thoughts, but then he asked her a question that caught her off guard. "What about Luthor? Do you love him?"
What did she say? How did she answer? "I don't know," she said honestly. "I do have feelings for him." That was at least true. He did excite and intrigue her. He was mysterious and he lavished attention upon her -- what woman wouldn't be attracted to that? But again, she didn't feel for him what she felt for Superman. "I haven't given him an answer, yet. And I won't until I've talked it over with someone else." She immediately wished she hadn't phrased it quite like that.
And then he asked the question that she knew would be coming. "Who?"
She smiled guiltily. "I think you know who." Only, how was she going to find him? He had been keeping a low profile the past few days because of the trouble his clone was causing for him.
But Clark seemed to be able to get in contact with him when he needed to. Maybe he could help. And with those thoughts, she found herself asking, "If you see him, will you tell him that I'm looking for him?"
It was only after the words were out of her mouth and the sharp pang of rejection could so clearly be seen on Clark's face, that she realized how insensitive the question had been. Part of her wished at that moment that she could take it back. But she couldn't. It had been said. And then Clark was nodding at her.
She nervously glanced down at her watch and then suddenly remembered that she was supposed to be meeting with Bobby.
"Oh my god, Clark. I'm sorry. I've gotta go," she said, standing up. "I told Bobby that I'd meet him at Uncle Mike's diner." She started to walk off but then stopped. "You can come with me, if you want."
Clark shook his head. "That's okay," he said with a wave of his hand. "I think I could use some more fresh air."
Lois nodded sadly at him and then headed off to find a taxi, hoping that Bobby hadn't gotten tired of waiting for her and had left.
Clark watched Lois go, an inconsolable grief tugging at him. She loved him -- she just didn't love *him*.
A spark of jealousy and anger welled up inside him. How could she have been so insensitive as to ask him to run and fetch Superman for her? After he had just poured his heart out to her, laid his feelings on the line?
What had she done? She had trampled them, no matter how lightly, and had then had the audacity to ask him to send his competition over for a chat.
He knew he was being silly. He *was* Superman. But she didn't know that. She had callously thrust him aside and then used him to get what she wanted...
Fine, Clark thought to himself. It's Superman she wants? Then it's Superman she's gonna get. He refused to lose her to Luthor and he was absolutely sick of being ignored by her as Clark.
She would listen to Superman. He would tell her what she needed to hear, and then he would leave.
It was over.
"So?" Lois asked, watching Bobby suck down the last of the oysters she had brought for him. He'd already inhaled the crab cakes and butterfly shrimp.
"Mmm," Bobby murmured appreciatively. "You did good, girl. Your uncle has some of the best oysters. I wonder who his supplier is." He licked off his fingers and wiped his mouth on a paper napkin from the dispenser on their table.
Lois glanced around her uncle's small diner. It was quiet in there right now, but it was getting close to dinnertime and soon the place would be hopping. So if Bobby had information to give her, he needed to get a move on. She was just about to point that out to him, when he continued.
"Okay. I bet you want to know if Lex's limo was at the bank robbery that Superman thwarted yesterday," he said, crumpling his napkin and setting it on his empty plate.
Lois rolled her eyes. "No, first of all, *I* already know the limo was there. I saw it myself. Secondly, *you* don't know that it was 'Lex's' limo. And thirdly, I'm not so sure *that* was Superman."
"You're not sure of much, are you?" Bobby grinned at his assessment and Lois scowled at him. He shrugged. "If you want proof that it was Lex's limo, then why didn't you get the license plate?"
"I tried. It was too far away for me to see," she protested.
His grin widened into a smirk. "Not for me."
When Bobby didn't continue, Lois let out an irritated sigh and pulled a small bag from her purse -- one that contained fudge brownies from a little bakery just down the street from the Planet. She had hoped to keep them for herself... they were made with some of the finest chocolate she had ever had the pleasure to taste. But they would be worth that license plate number. She shoved them discreetly under the table and passed them to Bobby. It wouldn't do for her uncle to find out she got her brownies elsewhere.
"When are you gonna learn not to withhold from me, Lois?" Bobby asked, taking the bag and lifting it up to his face, inhaling the contents. "Mmm, I'll save those for later."
Lois groused at the loss and crossed her arms in front of her. "The number?" she snapped.
He handed her a Polaroid and she looked down at it. The license plate number was clearly visible in the picture -- just random letters and numbers. For some reason, she had expected the plate to be a vanity plate if it belonged to Lex.
Well, there was one way to find out for sure. She'd take it back to Jimmy and have him run the plate number -- find out exactly who it belonged to.
When she looked back up, Bobby was gone from their booth. She glanced around but there was no sign of him.
She smirked contemptibly.
Parting with him was definitely not sweet sorrow... but parting with her sweets, that had certainly been sorrowful. She wondered briefly if that bakery had closed for the day yet.
Lois glanced around the newsroom -- still no Clark. She had hurt him, she knew she had. And if she was truthful with herself, she felt guilty about it.
But honestly, did that really give him the right to go off and sulk about it?
She shut down her computer and was about to grab her purse, considering making a trip by Clark's apartment on her way home, when Jimmy walked up. He was frowning.
"What's up?" she asked, warily.
"I got an ID on that plate." He paused and then handed her a print-off. "The plate is registered to Luthor."
"You mean it's registered to LexCorp?" she clarified, still clinging to the idea that Lex's personal limo would have a vanity plate.
"Well, yeah, but that's Lex's company, right?"
Lois raised an eyebrow at him. "Jimmy, do you know how many people Lex employs?"
Jimmy nodded slightly. "Yeah, but do you know how many of them would have access to a limo? My bet would be not many."
She blew out a breath, preparing to argue, but then she realized that he had a point... and it would actually help her out. If she could prove that it wasn't Lex, then her list should be a fairly short one.
"Listen, Lois, I don't know what's going on here, or why you had me run that plate. But Lex Luthor is pretty much a hero in my book, right now, for saving my job and all. I don't really want to jeopardize that job by doing things like -" he pointed at the paper she was holding "- that."
"I know, Jimmy. And believe me, I wasn't sure who that plate was going to belong to. I'm just following up leads right now, to see where they go." She folded the paper and stuck it in her jacket pocket. "What about the security tape I asked you to get from Henderson, from the first robbery?"
Jimmy looked around nervously. "He couldn't give me the tape," he whispered. "But he confirmed the plate number from the tape -- it was the same one." He cleared his throat and made a little cough. "So, uh, can I go now?"
Lois nodded and turned to grab her purse. Then she hesitated, calling out at Jimmy's retreating form, "Have you seen Clark?"
Jimmy answered without breaking stride. "Nope, sorry, I haven't. I'll let him know you're looking for him, if I see him."
She scowled as she watched Jimmy round the corner, out of sight. Lois hated to be wrong... about anything. What if she was wrong about Lex? Could there really be something to Clark's paranoid delusions?
Picking up the phone, she dialed Clark's home number. There was no sense stopping by there if he wasn't home. The phone rang several times and then his answering machine picked up. She hung up without leaving a message.
She reached up with one hand to rub the soreness she could feel in her shoulders and neck. It had been a long day. She needed to go somewhere that she could relax and think, mull over the events of the past few days.
A nice hot bath sounded like a good idea. Yes, that's what she would do. She would go home and take a long, hot bath -- try to clear her mind -- and then she'd try Clark again later.
Lois opened the door and stumbled inside her dark apartment. Hadn't she left a light on? She swore she had left the light over the kitchen sink on...
A soft sound, like someone clearing his throat, caught her attention and she glanced over towards her open living room window. A neon light had been put up across the street, and she was still trying to get used to the unnatural red glow that now filtered in through the window. When she had the lights on in her apartment she normally didn't notice it. But with all the lights off and her eyes not yet acclimated to the dark, it...
Her thoughts cut off abruptly as a shadow moved in the corner. Someone was getting up out of her chair. She tensed, ready to fight her intruder if necessary.
"You wanted to see me, Lois?"
The voice was as dark as the room, but familiar. The question was soft and hesitant, but held an underlying tension. Superman? Was it him? She squinted through the dark, trying to make him out, but it was no use, it was just too dark.
"Superman?" she asked, hopeful.
"Oh. Here, let me get a light." She turned towards the lamp beside her to click it on, but she was prevented when a large hand came from behind and caught hers.
"Why did you ask me here, Lois?" he murmured, his voice low and unexpectedly different... Was it her imagination or was there longing in his tone?
What had Clark told him? Never mind that, what did she tell him? "I..." she stammered, not turning to face him, her thoughts not coming together the way she had planned. He had caught her off guard, being here, waiting for her to get home. And now, touching her like this -- she was exquisitely aware of the heat of his hand on hers.
"You like me, don't you, Lois?" he asked softly. His hand pulled gently, coaxing her to turn around.
Her stomach fluttered nervously. Wasn't that what the clone had asked her? The sense of déjà vu was overwhelming as she turned to him and admitted, "You know I do."
The clouds which had been hiding the moon, parted, and beams of light poured in through the window, illuminating the man standing before her.
Her breath caught in her chest. He... he wasn't wearing his Suit! Or cape! He was dressed in... regular clothes. He had on a dark-colored men's suit with a white dress shirt. There was no tie. The shirt was completely unbuttoned, exposing the simple cotton t-shirt he was wearing underneath. The white sleeves of the shirt were exposed where they rolled back over the coat sleeves and his shirt was untucked.
"Your suit," she breathed. "Where...?"
"You don't think I wear it all the time, do you?"
Her mind stuttered. "N..no. I mean... I thought... I didn't know." Her eyes took in every detail of his appearance because it was so new and different to her, leaving her feeling stunned and completely unsure of what to say. The red lighting from outside was casting a surreal glow to his features. His hair was tousled from its normal slick appearance and his eyes were dark and intense. A flicker of recognition sparked through her brain but it was gone before she could identify or understand it. Suddenly it seemed like he was standing much too close.
"Let me go," she said, trying to slip her hand free from his. This wasn't Superman. It couldn't be. He had never come to her like this before, dressed like this, with that look in his eyes -- it sent a shiver down her spine as memories flashed through her mind of the first clone.
His hand tightened on hers, barely even perceptible, but enough that she knew without a doubt that this wasn't Superman. Not her Superman.
"You're not Superman," she said quietly, trying to keep the fear from her voice as she continued her attempt to free her hand of his grip.
"Yes, I am, Lois." He levitated off the floor a few inches as if that was supposed to prove something and then lowered himself back down. "You said you wanted to speak with me. So here I am."
That was true. She had asked Clark to let Superman know she was looking for him. But what if Clark had made a mistake? She didn't know how he had contacted Superman. What if he had talked to the clone accidentally, instead?
He pulled her closer to him, until she could feel the warmth of his body bleeding through her clothing and caressing her skin. She could feel an underlying tension in his posture. His proximity was making her dizzy. He leaned down, brushing his lips near her ear. "Why did you ask me here, Lois?" he repeated, the need in his tone now clearly manifest.
"I..." Her mind was unable to form a coherent thought. Why *had* she asked him here?
Her body went rigid when his lips placed a kiss just under her ear next to her hairline. It sent tingles down her neck and goosebumps rose on the backs of her arms. She had dreamt of this very situation a million times. Superman would come to her, admit to her that he was in love with her. He would touch her... kiss her...
Her mind swam and then began to founder from his slow, sensual kisses to her lips; the soft touch of his hand to her face, sliding down to cup her chin as he deepened the kiss.
This definitely felt like Superman. She remembered how *wrong* it had felt when the clone had kissed her. He had been clumsy and forceful, and... sloppy.
But now... Now she was being kissed with passion and longing, gently, but with just the right amount of firmness. Some of the kisses resembled the one she had stolen from him, right before he had left for space -- to destroy the Nightfall asteroid.
That gave her an idea.
"What did you say to me just before you left to destroy the Nightfall asteroid?" she quizzed him.
"Mmmm," he murmured, giving her another slow taste. "I said I'd come back... we'd go flying."
Her brain stuttered. This *was* Superman. The real one. No one could possibly know that but him.
"Is that why you asked me here, Lois? To take you flying?" he asked. She swore his voice almost sounded playful. Superman -- playful?
"N...no," she managed, coherent thought being drowned out by the affection he was lavishing on her.
"I know," he admitted softly. "You wanted to know how I felt about you -- isn't that right?" he murmured, his voice thick with a strange intensity.
Oh god. Clark had told him! "I wanted..."
"I know what you wanted," he told her, taking her other hand in his. He wrapped her arms behind her, despite her efforts to resist him, and grasped her two smaller hands together in one of his as he brought his other hand up to trace his fingertips lightly over her cheek.
He took in a shuddery breath before continuing, "I know what you want because it's what I want too. What I've wanted for a long time."
Really? No, she pulled herself away from the daydream. Something wasn't right. He seemed to be Superman, but he just wasn't acting... normal. She needed to get back in control...
He touched his lips to hers and then captured her mouth in a passionate kiss as he used his superior strength to force her back, until she was resting against the front door. When he shifted, the doorknob pressed uncomfortably into the small of her back.
"Ouch, the door," she grit out. She was suddenly two feet over to the left, her back against the wall -- his lips claiming dominion over hers once again. She mentally cursed herself for saying anything. If she had stayed where she was, she might have been able to open the door -- get away.
As it was, she doubted there was anything on this wall that could help her. But she felt along its surface with her fingers, anyway, unable to break his hold but desperately hoping to find something... anything...
But what could she possibly do to him?
Lois jerked her mouth away from his, gasping for breath. "No! No, you're wrong. This isn't what I want. And you're not Superman." She didn't care what questions he'd been able to answer. "He would never behave like this."
His smile sent chills down her spine. "You're wrong. I am Superman. I'll prove it to you."
Lois was panicking. No. No, this couldn't be happening. "Clark," she heard herself whimper. She wasn't sure why his name had sprung to her lips -- she should have been screaming for the real Superman to come.
But for some reason, it made him pause.
"Clark?" he asked, sounding amused. "You think Clark's going to save you? Clark's not coming."
"What?" she whispered in shock. Why would he say that? "Have you done something to him?" Dread filled her heart. This was the clone -- and he had done something to Clark. Horrific images began to flash though her mind.
A noise came from his lips that could have almost been a chuckle if it hadn't sounded so dark and disturbing. "I am Clark."
"What?" Confusion and disbelief jolted through her body. No. No, it couldn't be. But as she looked at his face again, into his eyes, she realized it was the truth. She didn't know how she had never seen it before, but there it was, staring her in the face. Clark Kent was Superman. She knew it like she knew the grass was green or the sky was blue. It suddenly just was. A thousand different moments became clear. A hundred different memories abruptly wove themselves together into a fabric that encompassed both of the men now standing before her.
And if Clark Kent was Superman, then that meant that this was the *real* Superman.
Superman -- Clark -- lowered his mouth to hers, drawing urgently and hungrily from her lips. She struggled in vain against him and then his hands tightened on her to restrict her movements. "I know you've wanted this, Lois," he said, his voice low and breathless. "I know I have. I've lusted after you. I tried to win your heart as Clark, but you didn't want me. You wanted Superman." He paused for a moment, a lustful smirk tugging at one corner of his mouth. "Guess what? You can have him. You can have him right now."
Her stomach rolled abruptly, her mind screaming white noise. Something was wrong with him. What had happened to him? Who had done this to him? This wasn't him. This wasn't Clark! This wasn't Superman!
And she knew then, without a doubt, that there was no clone.
Superman had done all those things.
She remembered seeing the taunting, proud manner of Superman without morals or restraint and her breath caught in her throat. There had been nothing to stop him from stealing, from behaving callously in the face of other people's distress. Lois was in trouble and, this time, Superman was not going to save her. *She* had to stop him. It was up to her. But how? How do you stop the most powerful man in the world from getting exactly what he wanted?
Her mind and thoughts were tripping over one another. She was grasping at them like they were feathers floating on a swift breeze. And all the while, Clark's lips were tasting her. Her face, her neck, down her heaving chest -- as far as they could explore until her shirt got in the way.
Then, as if reading her thoughts, his free hand strayed to the buttons on her blouse.
"No," Lois cried, determined to resist him. "Please, Supe-- Clark, please don't do this."
His only answer to her plea was to capture her lips in another kiss, his fingers fumbling with her buttons. She turned her head violently to the side, trying to escape.
There was a ripping sound as her shirt was pulled off one shoulder and down her arm. His teeth grazed her shoulder as a groan came from his lips.
Lois began to tremble and she let out a choked sob. "No, please, Clark," she begged him, tears forming in her eyes. "Please. This isn't you. You aren't yourself."
Clark ignored her protests, slipping his hand under the hem of her blouse to feel her bare skin. He kissed her hungrily, pressing her tightly between his body and the wall behind her. When one of his legs slipped between hers, fitting their bodies together, she let out a soft whimper.
"Please, stop," she begged.
"I will stop... soon enough." He crushed their lips together, lingering long enough to leave her wanting for air. "But first," he grunted, running a hand through her hair, tangling his fingers into it. "First..." he broke off and resumed kissing her, pressing harder against her as if he meant to meld their bodies together as one. "You will succumb -- even if I have to force you..." He forced his tongue between her lips, impatiently seeking her inner depths. He relinquished her mouth long enough to growl, "I won't be denied." And then his actions became suddenly voracious, no longer tempered with tenderness or love but, instead, demanding and greedy.
She tried, one last time. "Stop it! You're hurting me!" she spat at him with all the force and confidence she could muster, pushing against him with everything she had.
Clark felt like he was coming out from a deep sleep. It was dark and he couldn't see... but he could hear a voice distinctly. It was Lois's.
"Stop it! You're hurting me!" She was screaming the words at him.
Then there was another voice in his head. A familiar voice, though he couldn't place it. But it wasn't speaking to him; it was more like a memory -- instructions repeating.
//"...force her. You must show her that you are not to be denied. Her subjection must be complete. Even if you have to force her. You must show her that you are not to be denied. Her subjection must be complete. Even if..."//
"I..." Clark stammered, the room blurring in and out of focus. He was hurting her? "Lois, I..." He didn't *want* to hurt her. He shook his head, trying to clear it, trying to fight whatever was happening to him.
But it was exhausting. The more he fought, the more he felt as if he were mentally slogging through quicksand.
And then, more words, more commands, began repeating from the deep recesses of his mind, dulling his dissent and quieting his thoughts.
//"Obey. You must obey. There is no right. There is no wrong. There is only my voice and my command. Obey. You must obey. There is no right..."//
No right... no wrong...
He relaxed, allowing the darkness to envelope him and drown out his disquieting thoughts. He was doing what he was supposed to. This is what Lois had always wanted, after all. Superman. She had yearned for him... thrown herself at him.
She wanted him.
And he wanted her.
He used one hand to tug at her clothing. She fought to stop him -- why was she fighting him? And then he heard her crying out to him again.
"Plee... hee... heese, Claaaarrrk," she sobbed.
His body stiffened. No. This wasn't right. She was frightened. She was begging him. He had to help her. Clark struggled against the darkness in his mind, but the effort bordered almost on physical pain. He began to lose focus and would have receded into the black void once more but a pitiful whimper escaped Lois's lips, and her fear compelled him to fight. Help her, help Lois -- he began mentally reciting the words like a mantra.
His eyes flew open. Lois was pinned between him and the wall, her face so very close to his own. Her lips were red and swollen and her expression was contorted in fear.
"Lois?" Her name felt thick in his mouth. What was he doing? What was happening?
"Don't do this," she pleaded, hope springing into her eyes as a tear streaked silently down her flushed cheek.
No. No, he didn't want to hurt her.
//"subjection... complete... force her... not to be denied... must obey... subjection... force her..."//
Clark shook his head, trying to clear the rambling thoughts, trying to fight against them as they threatened to overwhelm his senses once again. Lois was crying. He had to make her stop crying.
"I don't..." he rambled, not able to concentrate and lost in confusion.
He had to make her...
//"not to be denied..."//
He had to make her see who was in control.
A few tears slipped from Lois's eyes as she shut them against what was happening. There was no escape -- she couldn't fight him. She didn't have any strength left to fight him with. Laying her cheek against his shoulder, she whispered softly in his ear. "I know you don't mean this. You would never do this." She let out a shaky breath and shut her eyes even tighter, steeling herself for what was about to happen, fighting him would only make it worse.
Clark jolted to full awareness, memories flooding from his mind. He grasped at them but couldn't hold on to them. As he became aware of his surroundings, he was instantly confused about why he was in Lois's apartment and simultaneously horrified by the tears on her cheeks and her torn blouse... The words 'you would never do this' echoed over and over in his mind. One of his hands was pinning her hands behind her and the other was...
He jerked his hands away from her and stepped backwards so quickly that he almost fell down.
Lois gasped when Clark's hands were suddenly gone and she was teetering unsteadily under her own power. She opened her eyes to find him standing several feet away from her, a shocked and confused expression on his face.
"Clark?" she whispered, and then, "Superman?"
His eyes widened further. "No... I... No, what's happening? What am I doing here?"
The anguish in his voice added to her own, breaking her resolve. She began to cry in earnest and collapsed with relief down to the hardwood floor beneath her.
She heard Clark gasp and sensed him take a couple of steps towards her, but then he stopped.
"Lois, I'm sorry. I don't know what... God, Lois..."
And then he was gone. She could feel the gust of wind as it ruffled her hair and she opened her eyes to find herself alone in her apartment.
She lay on the floor for a few moments in shocked disbelief of what had just happened, but then, she finally snapped out of it. That was Clark that had just flown out of her window.
He had seemed confused, and yet, he was the only one who could give her answers. She got up and went to her window, looking out. Lois knew he was gone but she still had to look...
And that's when she saw it.
A black stretch limo.
Lois approached Clark's apartment door hesitantly, still unsure of what to say or how to begin. She was still a little shaky from their last encounter. Part of her wanted to turn around and leave right now, before she took another step... The part of her that was afraid.
Thankfully that was only a small part.
The man who had been willing to force himself on her back at her apartment was not the man she was coming to see. Clark -- Superman -- would never have willingly done those things to her. She kept reminding herself of that.
But there was another reason that she felt tentative.
Best friend... Hero...
Loud ties... Spandex...
Her mind still hadn't completely reconciled that Clark was Superman. Thoughts kept jumping out at her -- circling around and around in her brain. Pieces of puzzles that she had given up hope of ever finding were snapping into place, slowly completing the picture. It amazed her, and frightened her, and infuriated her -- all at once. And yet, she couldn't think about any of that right now. They had more important things to discuss.
She raised her fist up to knock...
But what if he opened the door and he wasn't himself?
She'd deal with that when -- if -- it happened. No sense compounding the situation -- it was difficult enough as it was. She rapped lightly on his door and waited. When he didn't answer, she knocked again, a little louder this time. What if he really wasn't here? How would she find him? Where would he go?
Leaning forward, Lois tried to squint through the thin material covering the window of his door. There was a lamp on inside. "Clark? Are you in there?" she yelled and then listened for a response. She saw a shadow move through the room and she had to steady herself so she didn't jump away from the door -- but she did straighten up and take one step back. And then she reminded herself that she wasn't afraid of him...
No. That wasn't true. Not completely. She was afraid... of whatever was *controlling* him. Superman -- Clark -- would never hurt her intentionally -- she truly believed that. He had saved her life so many times and in so many ways. But if someone was using him -- somehow had him in their power -- she didn't know what he might be capable of.
What she did know was that she was probably the only person who could help him. He needed her. That knowledge shored up her courage and she yelled again, "Clark, I know you're in there. Open up. We need to talk."
She could faintly make out his outline as he approached the door, blocking the light from the lamp. She swallowed nervously, waiting for him to open the door. But it didn't open. He was just standing there on the other side, not moving.
"Come on, Clark. It's late, let me in."
"No," came his brusque reply.
The one word reply caught her off guard and she stammered, "No? What do you mean -- no?"
"Just what I said, Lois. No." He sighed loud enough that she could hear him through the door, and then he was speaking again, "I can't risk letting you in here with me. I don't trust myself. I don't know what was going on back there at your apartment, but I have a pretty good idea... and it scares me. Worse than anything has ever scared me."
"Clark, you have to listen to me. This isn't your fault. Someone is..."
"No!" he exclaimed forcefully. "I won't risk it, Lois. God, if I ever did something to hurt you, I couldn't live with myself."
"But you didn't! You didn't hurt me," she insisted, her stubborn side streaking to his defense.
"Didn't I?" he argued. "Your clothes and the tears on your face said otherwise. Go home, Lois. Or, better yet, go someplace where I won't be able to find you." His shadow moved from the door and started to shrink away, back down the steps.
"No, Clark! Listen to me! Open this door! We need to figure out what's going on!" she hollered after him, pulling and twisting on the doorknob. When she realized that wasn't getting her anywhere, she jerked her hands down into fists and narrowed her eyes determinedly. "If you don't open this door, I'll pull out my lock picks, I swear I will." Some threat, she thought snidely, she was talking to a man who could fly. Fly... "And don't you dare think of flying out the back, either!"
His shadow swiftly returned and the door was yanked open, out of her grasp, and Clark was there. He had tears in his eyes and he looked ill -- if that was even possible for Superman. "Dammit, Lois, listen to me! I can't be trusted!"
Clark watched Lois flinch away from the intensity in his voice and he felt a stab of guilt run through him. He sighed, dropping his shoulders, and continued softly, "*Superman* can't be trusted. I don't want to hurt you."
He still couldn't believe that she *knew*. When he had regained consciousness, in her apartment, she had called him both 'Clark' and 'Superman'. And now, here they were, both acting like it was the most natural thing in the world for her to know. He wasn't even sure *how* she knew, but did that really matter? For all he knew, he had told her himself when he was busy losing his mind.
"You won't hurt me," Lois assured him, and herself, before striding past him into his apartment. Her breath caught in her throat. There were suitcases at the bottom of the stairs. One was packed and closed and the other was half open -- numerous pairs of socks, shirts and other items all screamed out to her, 'he's leaving!'
She whirled on him. "What's this?"
He hung his head and let out a slow breath. "I was thinking of leaving."
"What?" she exclaimed. "How could you do that? What were you planning to do? Slip out in the middle of the night, not even tell me?" She glanced down at the suitcases incredulously. "How did you pack so fas...?" She broke off, realizing how ridiculous the question was. "Nevermind," she snipped. "Well, what did you plan to do? Call me up one day from a pay phone somewhere and..." She broke off because the guilt on his face was growing worse with each word she spoke. "I'm sorry," she apologized bitterly. "I'm sorry, but this... I just..."
"No, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," he pleaded with her, looking like he wished he could really, literally, just disappear.
The haunted pain in his eyes softened her and she reached out to take his hand, to assure him that she knew it wasn't his fault, but he jerked it away from her and took a few steps back. "No. Don't," he begged, his voice wretched and pitiful. "Please, Lois. I'm dangerous. Look at what Superman has done the past few days... What I almost did to you..."
Feelings of helplessness welled up in Lois's mind, threatening to overcome her, as she fought images of Superman pinning her to the wall. "No, that wasn't you." Her voice had softened but it was firm. She stepped forward, closing the distance between them again. "You are the kindest, gentlest, most selfless person that I know, Clark. You've saved countless numbers of people, including me, more than once, and you've never asked anything from anyone."
"But what if something's wrong with me? What if I'm... insane? Or have multiple personalities or something?" He shook his head as if to clear his thoughts. "I feel like I'm losing my mind. I can't trust myself."
"That's why you've got to trust *me*," she reasoned. "We can figure this out. I can help you."
"I know you can." Clark wiped under his eyes and smiled sadly. "But I can't let you, Lois. You know I can't."
Exasperation overtook her. "For crying out loud, Clark, why not?"
"Because I meant what I said in the park," he answered softly. "I love you. I love you more than I've ever loved anyone, and I can't..." he broke off and brought his hands up to his face, threading his fingers up through his hair and holding them there. He brought his arms together in front of his face, as if he could hide away behind them.
Any residual fear that Lois had left, melted completely away. She wrapped her arms around him before he could stop her and hugged him. "You won't." His body tensed for a few moments before finally relaxing into her arms with a soft tremble. As his head came down to bury itself in her shoulder, his arms reluctantly slipped around her, returning her embrace. She sucked in a shaky breath, realizing that she had never seen him scared like this -- not as Clark and certainly not as Superman.
"You won't," she repeated as she rubbed one hand across his back, feeling tears stinging her eyes. "It will be okay. We'll beat this together, you hear me? We'll get through this together."
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," he repeated, his voice muffled by her shoulder. "I don't know how you can forgive me..."
"Clark," she began, but he didn't let her get any further.
"Lois, please. You have to promise me something." He pulled away from her shoulder and looked into her eyes. "Promise me that if I start to act strange or seem different or I pass out on you or anything like that... promise me that you'll run. Go to Henderson. Tell him what's going on, even if that means telling him about *me*. But run."
"I don't know if I..."
"Promise me!" he insisted.
She sighed softly. "Okay. I promise. Not about telling Henderson. But I promise I'll leave."
Clark relaxed slightly, feeling a little bit relieved at even that small admission. He didn't know what had enabled him to stop himself back at Lois's apartment, but he certainly didn't want to press his luck. When he had become aware of where he was and what was going on -- there was no doubt in his mind as to what he had planned on doing. The thought made his chest constrict painfully.
If he had hurt her...
"Do you have *any* idea what might be happening to you? To Superman?" Lois asked, breaking into his thoughts.
Clark shook his head. He was still coming to grips with the fact that it was *him* doing all these things. He couldn't seem to remember doing any of them or what had happened, and he hadn't really had time to think a lot about *why* he was doing them.
His mind definitely hadn't had time to adjust to the fact that Lois knew about him, either. She knew the truth, somehow. How? He had thought it didn't matter, but it did. He needed to know. He had to ask her. "How did you figure out that I'm... you know..."
"Superman?" She shook her head softly in disbelief. "You told me."
"I told you?" he asked, feeling a bit dumbstruck. His subconscious had done what he had consciously been fighting with himself to do. She nodded at him and then looked away. He couldn't believe that she wasn't trying to rip him in two for hiding from her.
But he supposed that maybe there were more important things to deal with right now.
"Clark... I think I'm ready to believe that Lex could be involved," Lois admitted quietly, releasing Clark from her arms. "I have evidence that links him to each place that Superman went... umm..."
"Went crazy? It's okay, you can say it," he told her quietly. "I feel crazy."
"Well, that's not exactly what I was going to say," she objected, her cheeks flushing. But it was sort of what she had been thinking.
"You even have evidence that he was there tonight? At your apartment?" he asked, a chill running down his spine. She nodded. "What?"
"A black limo."
Clark furrowed his brow. "There are a lot of black limos, Lois," he pointed out, hating that he was arguing in defense of Luthor.
"Yeah, but the license plate is registered to LexCorp," she explained, turning and walking down the stairs to sit on the couch. "The informant that my uncle set me up with, Bobby Bigmouth, told me there was a black limo at the bank that Superman... uh..."
"That Superman robbed," Clark supplied helpfully, hating that it was true, but refusing to deny it. "Go on," he told her, walking down the stairs to stand next to the couch.
"And also at the fire that he... um... refused to help out with." She patted the couch for him to sit down beside her, but he shook his head, declining the invitation. She cleared her throat in the awkward silence that followed, before continuing, "Then yesterday, I saw the limo for myself. It was at the bank that the teenage boys robbed. One of Bobby's informants got the license plate. Jimmy ran the plate and it came back registered to LexCorp."
Clark frowned. "And tonight? You saw it at your apartment tonight?"
She bit her lip. "Um, yeah, after you left. I grabbed my binoculars..."
"You had time to get binoculars before it drove off?" he asked incredulously. Why would Luthor stick around that long?
"No. I mean, yes," she said, sounding flustered. "I mean, I keep them by the window because sometimes I..." She cleared her throat softly. "...watch the skies. You know..." And for just an instant she took on the look that she normally reserved for when she was speaking to Superman.
She was right, this had to be Luthor -- only he hated Superman this much. Clark felt heat flushing his face. Luthor had taken something from him, and from Lois. He had taken her innocence about Superman. And Clark wasn't talking about the fact that she hadn't known who Superman was. But to her, he had been virtuous, trustworthy... good... her hero. She had thought he could do no wrong.
And Luthor had shown her otherwise.
She cleared her throat and then the look was gone. "Anyway, I got a look at the license plate as the limo drove off," she continued, all business again. "It was the same plate."
Lois didn't know for sure if Lex had really been in that limo... But if it was him, why? Her mind took the thought and ran with it. Lex could have been right outside her apartment, waiting and watching, while he fully expected Superman to...
She repressed the shudder that was threatening to overtake her. What a sicko!
Clark felt nauseous. The thought that Luthor was behind this, that he had somehow instructed Superman to go to Lois's apartment and... what? Rape Lois? Was that part of the plan? Luthor was supposedly in love with Lois -- not that Clark believed the man was truly capable of love, but he *wanted* her, at the very least. Would Luthor have really told Superman to go that far?
A pain shot through his chest as he realized that might have been the very reason he had stopped when he did. What if it hadn't been Clark at all, that had stopped what was happening? Maybe Luthor had stopped him? Maybe he was somehow programming him to do these things -- brainwashing him -- and he had only programmed him to go so far. The thought frightened him to his very core.
What if Luthor programmed him to do something worse?
"Have you told Henderson?" he asked, not sure what he wanted the answer to be.
She shook her head. "No. I didn't want to tip my hand too soon and scare Lex off. That info alone won't be enough to incriminate him. If he is the one responsible, we've got to get more before we go to the police."
Clark nodded and they were silent for a few seconds, each pondering what they had learned so far. Then Lois stood up from the couch and began to pace. "You don't have a secret lair somewhere that you could have stashed the goods that were stolen from the bank, do you?"
Despite the situation, Clark almost laughed. "No. No secret lair."
Lois gestured around the room. "What about here? Could you have stashed the loot here somewhere?"
Clark frowned and tipped his glasses down on his nose, turning in a slow circle as he scanned his apartment. "Nope, not here."
Lois was staring at Clark with a look of amazement on her face.
"What?" Clark asked, feeling like he was in the third grade again and Mrs. Harris had just asked him how he had learned his multiplication tables so fast. He wanted to fidget.
"N...nothing," she stammered. "Sorry. I just still... you know... it's hard to believe." She blushed. "I mean, you were just x-raying your apartment, right?"
He nodded, running a hand restlessly through his hair. "Yeah."
"Can you see through *anything*?" she asked, self-consciously crossing her arms in front of her, remembering that he hadn't been wearing his glasses when he had been at her apartment earlier.
Clark noticed the motion and a stab of guilt pierced him. "Yes, most things. But I would never..." He paused when he realized that wasn't true. He had no idea what he had done to her before he had come back to awareness in her apartment. "Lois, I would never *consciously* invade your privacy like that."
She smiled timidly. "Yeah, I know you wouldn't." The silence stretched on and then Lois finally got back to her questions. "So the stash isn't at a hideaway and it's not here..." She tapped her lips with her fingertips thoughtfully and resumed pacing. Something was nagging at the back of her mind. Something he had said to her that morning. And then, like a bolt from the blue, it hit her. She stopped pacing and whirled to face him. "Clark, what if you gave it to Lex?"
That had to be it. Lois found herself getting more wound-up as the mystery seemed to unravel in her mind. "You asked me this morning if the diamond in the engagement ring might have been from the robbery. Did Henderson tell you what the diamond looked like?"
"Yeah," Clark said with a nod. "It was a three carat diamond, almost completely colorless with no flaws. Nearly perfect. He said it was a princess cut."
Lois shook her head in disbelief. "You were right. It can't just be a coincidence." She remembered thinking that diamond was one of the most gorgeous stones she had ever seen, and it was huge -- gaudy, really. "You just described the diamond in that ring." Lois frowned. "But, I don't get it, Clark. Why risk it? Why risk giving me a diamond that had been stolen? What if someone recognized it? Lex could have bought any stone he wanted. I don't understand..."
"I do," Clark said grimly. "What better gift to give the woman who loves your enemy than the very thing that was going to destroy your enemy... by his own hand?"
Lois gritted her teeth, furious at the thought... and insulted by the gesture.
"Luthor wouldn't want to give you just any diamond," he continued. "This one meant something to him. Superman had stolen this diamond for him to give to you. I'm sure in his eyes it was almost poetic." Clark crossed his arms and furrowed his brow. "We need to get that ring from him somehow. It would prove that he was..."
"*You* don't need to do anything," Lois interrupted. "You can't risk getting near Lex, Clark. He has too much control over you." Clark looked like he was going to argue so she quickly continued, "I'll talk to Henderson, first thing in the morning. See if there's any way he can get a search warrant for that ring. And, really, I don't think you should go in to work tomorrow, either."
"Lois, I can't just..."
"You shouldn't be anywhere near Lex. We don't know how he's controlling you but I bet the farther away you are, the better." She frowned as she began pacing again. "Actually, maybe you should go stay with your parents until we get this figured..."
"No way," he said adamantly. "I'm not leaving you here to face that man alone. He's evil, Lois."
"No! I can't!" he exclaimed, beginning to pace also. "I'll be careful. I won't go into work. I'll stay home and keep in touch with you by phone."
Lois was nodding. "And maybe I should stay close tonight..."
Clark's eyes went wide. "What? No. You need to stay as far away from me as possible. I don't want you anywhere around me."
She rolled her eyes. "Oh, that makes sense. I suggest that you go to Kansas to put some distance between you and Lex, but you say no. Then you say I need to stay as far away as possible." She put her hands on her hips. "What if something happens to you after you fall asleep?"
"Exactly!" he exclaimed. "What *if* something happens after I fall asleep? What if I lose control of..."
"You won't hurt me," she stated simply, as if she thought there was no room for argument. "I know you won't."
"How do you know? How can you be sure?" Clark felt bile rising in his throat and he swallowed uneasily. "After tonight?"
"Because you didn't. Because you stopped. You had your chance already, Clark, and you didn't." He looked like he wanted to argue but she quickly pressed forward. "Yesterday, when you hurt those boys at the bank..." Clark flinched noticeably and Lois reached out and squeezed his hand, giving him a soft smile. "I called out to you and you seemed almost confused. It was like you were fighting whatever hold was over you. And then tonight. You couldn't go through with whatever you'd been told to do. You broke free..."
"What if I didn't?" Clark blurted out desperately. "Let's say I am being controlled, programmed somehow to do these things. What if my instructions only told me to go so far?"
She squeezed his hand tighter. "I'm not afraid of you."
"Maybe you should be." He sighed, pulling his hand away from her. "What if I'm really not under anyone's control? What if I'm just losing my mind?" He sat down hard on the couch and slipped his head into his hands.
Lois hated what Lex had done to Clark... and to Superman. Making him doubt himself. Making *her* doubt him. She had to prove to him that she trusted him, that she knew he could fight it. She sat down next to him and reached up to finger a piece of hair that had fallen across his eyes. She smoothed it away from his face and smiled warmly at him. "I won't leave you, Clark." She ran her hand down his face, touching him tenderly. "I think we can trust that Lex doesn't know that *you* are Superman. He isn't going to come here, to your apartment, and force you to do anything to me and..."
"We don't know how he's controlling me," Clark protested weakly. She was wearing him down. His skin still tingled from where she had touched him. It may have been just a reassuring gesture to her but she had no idea what it was doing to him -- or how much more guilty it was making him feel. He closed his eyes, taking a deep, slow breath, and then he reached up and pulled her hand away from his face. Giving her hand a soft squeeze, he clenched his jaw, steeling his resolve. "Let's say our theory is true and Lex is somehow controlling me. What if he's doing it from a distance? It wouldn't matter where I was."
"If that were true, then why is he always at the scene in that limo?" she argued.
Clark scowled, feeling his determination returning. "Maybe because he just wants to watch the carnage. Or maybe because he needs to see what's happening in order to control it."
"Maybe..." she agreed. "But I'm still not leaving."
Clark stood up abruptly. "If you won't leave, then I will."
"What?" she exclaimed, standing up next to him. "Oh, so now you're going to take my advice and go to Kansas?"
"Yes. I mean, no, not Kansas. I..."
"Clark, please, listen to me..."
"No! I absolutely will not risk hurting you." He glanced around his apartment. "You'll be safe here. Please, stay here. If Luthor really is behind this and was behind what happened at your apartment tonight..." He let out an almost imperceptible shudder. "Please don't go back there. He won't know that you're here."
"And what about you?" she pressed. "Where will you go?"
"I'll... I'll go somewhere."
"Where?" She couldn't let him leave like this. He needed help. He didn't need to be off on his own, by himself.
"Somewhere where you'll be safe from me," he answered softly.
"No," she protested.
"Just for the night," he promised. She could hear the determination in his voice and knew she wasn't going to change his mind. "Stay here, you'll be safe, and I'll be back tomorrow to check on you." He gave her a sad smile. "I think this time, to keep you safe, I need to keep my distance."
"But, Clark..." she began. Before she could continue there was a 'whoosh' and he was gone -- out the window.
Lois ran to the window and looked out, up into the dark night sky above. "Be careful," she whispered softly.
After a few seconds of watching the sky where he had been, she walked back over to the couch and sat down with a dull thud, laying her head down into her hands. Suddenly her head jerked up and her elbow flew back into the unsuspecting couch cushion behind her with a loud 'thwap'. She whacked it again and again until she felt reasonably better.
Lois hated feeling useless. And that's how Clark had made her feel. Stay here? At his apartment? Stay safe?
That wasn't how Lois Lane played.
She spied his phone and snatched it up, dialing her uncle's diner. After a couple of rings, he answered.
"Hello, Americana Cafe."
"Uncle Mike, it's Lois."
"Lois? It's awfully late. I was just getting ready to close up for the night. Are you okay?"
What a question... if he only knew what her night had consisted of. "I'm fine," she assured him. "I need you to pass a message on to Bobby for me."
She heard some shuffling noises and then he responded, "Okay, I'm ready."
"Tell him that Lex has the diamond from the robbery. He was planning to give it to me in an engagement ring." She paused for a second as an idea struck her. It could work. It had to work. "Tell him that I'm gonna get the ring from Lex and take it to Henderson as evidence. Ask him if he has anything else he can give me, anything."
"Lois?" Her uncle's voice sounded worried. "Are you sure about this? Maybe we should call the police."
"No. Uncle Mike, please trust me. I need to get that ring. It's the only proof we have." She waited but he didn't respond. "Uncle Mike?"
"Lois, I don't want to see you get hurt."
She seemed to be getting that a lot lately. Lois sighed softly. "I know. But this is important. Listen, if you think anything's happened to me or something's gone wrong, call Inspector Henderson down at the precinct and talk to him, okay?"
She heard a resigned sigh from the other end of the phone and then, "Okay, Lois. But be careful. You're my favorite niece, you know. And don't you dare tell Lucy I said that."
Lois grinned. "I won't, Uncle Mike. Thanks. I'll talk to you soon."
"Okay. I'll get the message to Bobby. See you soon."
She hung up the phone and chewed on one of her nails for a few seconds. It was going to be risky. Clark would be mad. But what choice did she have? She couldn't tell Henderson and let him go barging after Lex with a warrant. That diamond ring would be gone before the ink had finished drying on the paper.
No. It had to be her way. And this was going to have to be the best performance she'd ever given.
Clark touched down on the soft, powdery snow of an iceberg.
What was he doing here?
He had taken off from his apartment, trying to get away from Lois before she convinced him to stay. He hadn't known where he was going and hadn't cared. Before he realized it, he had found himself in the Arctic, of all places.
Maybe his subconscious was trying to tell him something. Maybe he needed to cool off a bit. At least he knew Lois would be safe from him if he was here.
Clark shook his head at himself. He had argued that Kansas was too far for him to go, and then he had flown to the Arctic. But Lois would be safe from Luthor at his apartment. Besides, the real reason he hadn't wanted to go to Kansas was because he couldn't face his parents right now. How could he look them in the eyes and tell them what he had done? What he was running from? Hiding from? They still thought there was a clone...
But there wasn't. Clark had done those horrible things. The most horrible being what he had almost done to Lois.
How could she come to his apartment like that, pretending like nothing was wrong? He knew that's all it was -- a pretense. She was holding it together until she could get her hero cleared. Then she'd probably never want to speak to him again.
She might feel that she owed him for the times he had saved her... but he didn't deserve her. He certainly didn't deserve her friendship, or anything else, after what had happened.
Maybe once this was over, he should talk to Perry about a transfer, at least to another department. How could Lois face working with him every day after what he'd almost done?
The frustration built inside of him until it exploded in a wail of utter pain. Why? Why did it have to be like this? All he had wanted was a life. All he had wished for was someone to love. And he had found her -- Lois.
And he had ruined it.
Clark dropped down to his knees in the snow and put his head in his hands.
He thought it had been bad when she had only loved Superman. Now he had even lost that.
She would never trust him again.
Lex gave Lois a puzzled look and shifted the phone receiver he was holding. "I'm going to have to call you back. Thank you." He hung up the phone and gave Lois an indulgent smile. "I'm sorry, would you repeat the question?"
Lois forced herself not to grimace and gave him a pretty blush. "I asked if I could see my ring." She made sure to put just the right emphasis on the word 'my'.
"Of course, my dear," Lex said, pulling the ring box from his jacket pocket. Lois concealed the need to roll her eyes -- of course he'd carry the thing around with him. She had counted on it. "Can I hope this means you've made a decision?" he continued as he opened the box and held it out to her.
Lois took a slow even breath and nodded shyly. "Yes. Yes, Lex, I will marry you." Those words had been even harder to say than she had imagined. But she kept the fake smile plastered on her face.
Lex took her hand gently and slid the monstrosity onto her finger. "I won't pretend to hide how happy you've made me," he said with a silky voice. "However, I can't help but wonder what effected this decision." He raised a questioning eyebrow at her and Lois suddenly wondered why it felt so hot in the conference room. "You said that your decision had something to do with Superman," he continued. "Did you speak with him?"
Bile threatened to rise in her throat and she swallowed. Lex really was a monster. But she couldn't call him on it right now. She had to hold herself together, so she pushed her feelings down and maintained her façade.
"Yes. He wasn't the man I thought he was." She gave a convincing choke at the end of her words and Lex stepped behind her, sliding one arm around her waist and taking hold of her left hand with his other hand.
He caressed the ring softly with his thumb and then gave her hand a tender squeeze. "Lois, I'm so sorry." His voice was marked with condescension and Lois bit the inside of her cheek to stifle a retort. "I tried to warn you," he continued smugly. "To tell you that no man is *that* good... not even Superman."
She wanted to retch. She wanted to turn around and punch him in the face... no, that wouldn't hurt bad enough -- knee him in the groin. It was all she could do to control herself, to bite her tongue.
Lex tapped the ring with his thumb. "Unlike this ring, Superman *is* flawed." His breath was hot in her ear and it inflamed her righteous indignation even further. "He has weaknesses," he continued, brashly. "Just like any other man... needs... like any other man."
God. If she didn't leave now, she was going to lose it. She couldn't take much more of this. It was time to wrap this up and get to Henderson -- the sooner, the better.
"Yes, I can see that now. But you, Lex, you've made me so happy," she told him, trying not to choke on the words. Yeah, she was happy -- happy to have the evidence she'd come for. She discreetly worked herself free from his arms and gave him a sweet smile. "I have to go call my... mother... and tell her the good news." She had to get out of here... now.
"Your mother can wait," Lex said smoothly, reaching out to catch her hand and pulling her back towards him. "We need to celebrate."
"Celebrate?" she asked with a grin, frantically trying to think of a plausible reason to leave the room. "Okay, but at least let me show Perry and Jimmy," she requested firmly as she backed towards the door, trying to slide her hand from his.
"Lois, Lois," Lex said with a shake of his head and a disappointed sigh. "When will you ever learn that you can't hide from me?"
Lois stopped cold in her tracks. "Hide from you? What do you mean?"
"My dear, do you honestly think I've risen to my station in life without a knack for reading people, hmmm?" Lex let go of her hand, gesturing at something behind her, and Lois turned to see Mrs. Cox standing in the doorway to the conference room, blocking Lois's retreat. The woman's eyes were cold as she shut the door.
Lex smiled congenially at Lois. "Now, why don't you tell me where you were really going?"
There wasn't any reason to land. Clark could tell that Lois wasn't inside his apartment -- there was no sign of her familiar heartbeat -- and a quick scan confirmed what he already knew.
Where had she gone? He had asked her not to go home. Had she gone there anyway? Turning in mid air, he headed back towards her apartment building. He began scanning for her as soon as he could make out the building, but she wasn't there.
Clark really couldn't afford to continue scouring the city for her, dressed in the red and blue. He didn't want Lex to know that he was in the vicinity. Thankfully, it had been a foggy morning and he'd been able to keep out of sight for the most part. But as the sun rose higher into the sky, it would burn off his precious cover.
It was time to assume his true identity; time for Clark Kent to do his part. After all, it was more than likely that Lois had simply already gone into work by now. Clark just needed to show up for work himself, and then they could formulate a plan.
But... he had promised Lois that he wouldn't go in to work, he reminded himself. His jaw tightened, causing a muscle to twitch in his cheek. He had to be cautious, but he had to find Lois too. And it would be safer for him to do that as Clark than as Superman. Not wanting to press his luck any further, he found the first suitable location he could to make a quick change -- a darkened alley down a quiet side street. Then he flagged down the first taxi he could find.
"Daily Planet, please," he instructed the cabbie.
Lois woke up to unfamiliar surroundings. There were wine kegs stacked high around her. She was sitting in a chair with her ankles tied to its legs and her hands bound behind her back. She blinked a few times groggily and the room began to come into focus.
She didn't know what had happened. The last thing she could remember, clearly, was Lex asking where she was really going. She had been frantically searching for a good explanation and then... nothing, and she had woken up here.
Wherever 'here' was.
She turned her head slowly to take in her surroundings. A set of stairs caught her attention. They led up to a large wooden door... a door that was opening.
A familiar face entered the room. "Ms. Lane," Mrs. Cox spoke her name with an edge of contempt. "It's nice to see you awake. I'll..."
"You can't keep me here!" Lois shouted at her.
"Of course we can," Mrs. Cox stated simply. "Not that we need to," she continued as she walked down the stairs towards Lois. "You aren't going to give us any trouble."
"Oh, really?" Lois spat. "Why not?"
Mrs. Cox smiled snidely. "For one thing, you seem to have lost your evidence," she said, pulling a chain up from around her neck. At the bottom the diamond from the engagement ring sparkled.
Lois wriggled her ring finger, feeling of it with another finger -- yep, the ring was gone and was now in the possession of Mrs. Cox. Damn. She was going to have to figure out a way to get it back. "So?" she replied tartly. "I have other evidence. People who are willing to testif..."
"Don't be ridiculous. I can't be bluffed, Ms. Lane." Her eyes flashed dangerously. "And besides, you'll sit here and be quiet and do what we tell you because of Superman."
Mrs. Cox nodded. "It would be a shame to add *murder* to the list of crimes he's committed."
Lois felt a wave of nausea overtake her and she weakly ground out, "Superman would never hurt me."
"You?" she asked with an amused grin. "No, I wasn't talking about you. But perhaps your dear old uncle would have to be silenced?" Lois gasped in shock and Mrs. Cox continued, still smiling, "Too much to comprehend? Then how about the Inspector? Henderson is it?"
Lois was reeling but quickly recovered and regained control of herself. "Superman wouldn't kill anyone."
"Wouldn't he?" she asked coolly. She retrieved a newspaper that was lying on top of one of the nearby wine kegs. "Lex is really growing fond of owning a newspaper, Ms. Lane. Especially when he's able to contribute to the headlines." She held up the newspaper for Lois to inspect. It was dated with today's date and the headline read:
'Magician's Assistant Does Final Disappearing Act.'
Lois scanned through the article, the words 'escaped prison', 'murder', 'dragged river', and 'body found', catching her attention. Her face paled. That's how Lex had been controlling Clark. He had used Constance and her mind control over Superman. The words 'moon and stars' sprung to her mind. But the last she had known, Constance was in prison, serving a life sentence.
"Did Lex break her out of jail?" Lois asked, her curiosity piqued.
"No. She took care of that on her own with a little 'mind over men,'" she answered, her eyes sparkling in amusement. "All Lex did was offer her protection once she managed to get out of prison... provided, of course, that she help him out with a little something."
Lois snorted. "Some protection! Superman didn't kill her -- Lex did. You and I both know that."
"Possibly," Mrs. Cox conceded. "But the police might receive a tip that says otherwise." She smiled confidently. "You are a smart woman, Ms. Lane, but Lex has outsmarted even you."
"Maybe. But he's also outsmarted himself." At Mrs. Cox's confused expression, Lois continued. "He wanted me. Lex always gets what he wants, but not this time. He's going to have to kill me now. I'll never let him get away with this. I won't rest until he's behind bars."
"Perhaps. Perhaps not. As far as your accusations against him, well, he's certainly not going to let you print them under the Daily Planet banner," Mrs. Cox replied with a smirk. "And even if you manage to print something, somewhere, who's going to believe you? The police? You have no proof." Mrs. Cox tugged on the necklace she was wearing as a reminder. "Not enough for a warrant, anyway."
"We'll see," Lois bit out.
"Yes, we will," Mrs. Cox agreed easily. "And we'll see if your interpretation of Lex doesn't mysteriously change before this is all over."
Lois frowned at her. Did she honestly think Lois could get over something like this so easily?
"Poor Lois. Have you forgotten?" Her smile flashed into a spiteful sneer. "Moon and stars?"
The room tilted at an odd angle and Lois fought to retain consciousness. "No," she spat at the overconfident woman. "I remember..." The room swayed violently and Lois leaned back firmly against her chair for stability. "I remember moon and stars." She took a deep, clearing breath and continued, "And I remember that it has no hold over me. I can fight it."
"Mmm, perhaps. But can you fight this?" Mrs. Cox took out a powder compact and blew a bit of dust into Lois's face. Lois began to cough raggedly and Mrs. Cox smiled wickedly. "Let's try that again... Moon and stars."
Clark walked past his desk, headed towards his editor's office. Perry was inside, frowning down at the newspaper he held in his hands. Clark opened the door to his editor's office and cleared his throat softly.
Perry looked up at him. "Oh, Clark, come on in."
"Hi, Chief." Out of habit, Clark glanced down at the newspaper Perry had been looking at.
The headline almost made his knees go weak.
'Magician's Assistant Does Final Disappearing Act.'
"Is that today's paper, Perry?" Clark asked, tipping his glasses down a bit on his nose.
Perry nodded and began to prattle on about something that had to do with today's headline being empty -- Clark didn't know what he was saying for sure. He was too busy surreptitiously scanning the article. Then, as Perry finished his tirade, Clark finally succumbed to the desire to sit down... before he fell down.
That was how Lex had been controlling him. But how? Clark had been able to fight off her mind control, at the end. Of course, he had actually known what she was trying to do. How had Lex been doing it? At a distance somehow? Is that why the limo had been...
"Clark? Are you okay?" Perry asked, interrupting his thoughts.
"Huh? Uh, yeah, Chief. I'm fine. I just didn't get a lot of sleep last night." Truth be told, he hadn't gotten any sleep last night. He had just kept mulling over and over in his mind what he had almost done to Lois... and wondering what she thought of him now.
"You look paler than a whitewashed picket fence in a Mississippi sunset."
Clark frowned. *That* was a new one. He didn't think he'd ever heard that one before. He cleared his throat before he responded, "No, I'm fine, really. Have you seen Lois?"
Perry shook his head and scowled. "No. I was hoping you had. She left here earlier this morning with Lex and I haven't seen her since."
"Lex?" Clark repeated the name, his voice breaking.
"Uh, yeah," Perry said with a nod. "And it's not like I can say anything since he's the owner of the paper now, but I really need my top reporter here and not off gallivanting on the... Clark? Are you sure you're okay?"
Clark nodded. "I think I just need some fresh air, Chief. I'll be right back."
As Clark ran out of the office, he could hear Perry mumbling to himself in the background, "What a way to run a railroad."
Clark was headed for the stairwell when Jimmy's voice brought him to a halt. "Hey, CK. Do you know where Lois is?"
"No, Jimmy. I was just about to go look for her, myself," he explained, turning towards the stairwell once again.
"Oh. Well, I've got her uncle on line one. He said she was supposed to check in with him this morning, something about a ring, but he hasn't heard from her."
Clark turned back to see Jimmy looking at him imploringly, the mouth of the receiver covered and held out to him in invitation. He sighed inwardly. He really didn't have time for this, but maybe her uncle knew what was going on. Grabbing the phone from Jimmy, he gave him a quick pat on the shoulder.
"No problem, CK." Jimmy walked off, happily, unaware of the trouble that was brewing. Clark had a bad feeling about what Mike Lane was going to tell him.
"Clark? This is Mike Lane, Lois's uncle."
"Hi, Mike," Clark said conversationally and then lowered his voice, "What has happened to Lois?"
There was a sigh on the other end and then, "I was hoping you could tell me. Lois had this convoluted plan that she was gonna get that engagement ring from Lex Luthor and take it to some inspector."
"Yeah, Henderson. She said that the ring was the evidence you needed to clear Superman." There was a deeper sigh and he continued. "Between you and me, I think she's in over her head on this one, Clark. I told her not to do it. I told her to go to the police and let them handle it. But you know how she is."
Clark nodded. "Yeah, I do. Listen, can you do me a favor?"
"I'm going to go see if I can find Lois. She's not here and Perry said she left with Luthor earlier this morning. I think there's more than a good chance that she's in way over her head. Call Henderson and tell him what you told me and tell him that I'm headed to LexCorp to see if I can find her."
"Clark, are you sure that's wise? Maybe you should wait for Henders..."
"No. It can't wait." Clark paused and let out a frustrated breath. He wasn't sure it was the smart thing for him to do -- going after Lois. If Lex had her, and Lex could control him... No. He wouldn't allow Lex to control him. He would fight it. After all, he had fought it off before when Constance had used mind control on him -- he could fight it this time. Especially now that he knew what was happening. "Lois can't wait. She's in trouble. I don't even know what Henderson would be able to do at this point. I just wanted him to know what was going on."
"Okay, Clark, I'll tell him."
Clark hung up the phone and once again headed for the stairwell.
Clark was flying high over the city of Metropolis, headed towards the uppermost balcony of the LexCorp building, when he heard it.
A voice was calling out to him.
"Looking for me, Superman?"
It was Luthor's voice. Clark shook his head as if to try and clear it. How was he hearing Luthor's voice way up here and so far from LexCorp? Was he projecting it somehow?
"Yes, I'm sure you are," Luthor continued. "Are you surprised at how I'm communicating with you? This ultra high frequency is for your ears only." There was a quiet chuckle and then, "Oh, and Superman, I know you know where to find me -- 'just look up.'"
Clark flew faster. He was almost there.
As the balcony approached, he slowed his speed and touched down, only enough to hit the floor at a brisk stride. He pushed the doors open without a thought as to whether they were locked or not.
Luthor was waiting inside, a small, pleased smile on his lips. "Ah, Superman," he greeted him, setting down a small microphone. He gestured to it. "Handy little device."
"Where's Lois?" Clark demanded.
Luthor's smile widened into a smirk. "Getting right to the chase, I see. My *fiancée* is..."
Clark advanced on him threateningly causing Luthor to halt mid-sentence. "I don't know what you've done to her," Clark told him, his voice low and menacing. "But she would never agree to marry you."
Luthor took two steps back and brushed some imaginary lint from his suit coat. "Tsk, tsk, Superman. Envy is such a... *becoming* quality on you," he said with a sneer. "Especially when I didn't even have to evoke that particular evil." He grinned sadistically. "I can *provoke* it from you instead. I love it."
"Where is Lois?" Clark asked again, advancing on him once more.
Luthor frowned. "Has anyone ever told you that you are very single minded?" He shook his head deprecatingly at him. "Why do you think she even wants to see you after what you tried to do to her last night?" Luthor smiled viciously at him. "Why if I..."
Clark had found his limit. He'd had enough and, throwing caution to the wind, he took the lapels of Luthor's suit coat in his hands and hoisted him up off the floor. "Tell me where she is! Now!"
"Of course, of course," Luthor said calmly without concern. "Lower me down and I'll take you to her."
Clark raised an eyebrow suspiciously at him as he lowered him and Luthor held up his hands defensively. "No tricks, I assure you. I will do nothing to stop you from getting to her -- you have my word."
His word. That wasn't worth much to Clark, but Lois was. Lois was worth everything. Clark had scanned the LexCorp building before he got there and there had been no sign of Lois anywhere. So if she was here, then she was being shielded by some form of lead.
She was worth everything. And Clark was willing to follow Luthor wherever he was taking him, if it got him closer to her.
Luthor held out a hand towards the wooden door in front of him. "She's inside."
Clark couldn't see what was behind the door. It was definitely shielded by lead somehow. He swallowed the fear that was building inside of him. He knew it couldn't be this easy. Luthor wasn't going to let him just waltz in and take Lois away.
What was his game? Lex wasn't aware that Superman knew about Constance, so maybe he was banking on being able to control him?
Could Lex control him? Or would Clark be able to fight his hold over him?
The rational part of Clark's mind was begging him not to open the door. He needed help. Maybe Henderson, or Mike Lane could...?
No. No, he couldn't risk involving anyone else. Besides, Henderson would more likely arrest Superman if he saw him, and he wasn't likely to follow Clark to LexCorp on a raid -- not without any evidence.
And he couldn't risk Luthor doing anything to Lois. He claimed to love her, and maybe he thought he did... Maybe he wouldn't really hurt her. But he could certainly ferry her off to some place where Clark would never find her.
Clark couldn't risk that.
He had to open that door -- and pray that he was mentally strong enough to fight. He reached for the doorknob, expecting some kind of resistance or trick... something. He glanced back but Luthor was just standing patiently behind him, an unreadable smirk on his face.
Clark pressed forward, opening the door and walking inside... into a... wine cellar? What in the world? Could it get any more bizarre? He looked down into the room to find Lois dressed in a bright red party dress, holding a glass of wine.
Yes, it could definitely get more bizarre.
"Hi, Superman," she said casually, almost distantly. "Care to join me for a drink? To celebrate my marriage to Lex?"
Clark had started walking down the stairs. Her announcement brought him to a halt. "Lois? What are you talking about?"
She smiled up at him. "My engagement. Lex and I were just about to toast to it."
"Hello, my dear," Luthor said, coming through the door behind Clark. "Do you have our gift for Superman?"
Lois's eyes lit up. "Oh, yes. Yes, I do." She came walking towards Clark as he began descending the stairs once more.
The pain hit Clark in a searing wave. His legs gave out beneath him and he stumbled down the last few stairs, sinking to his knees at the bottom.
Clark was in pain. Lois could see it in his face, hear it in his voice as he pleaded with her, "Please, Lois, don't do this. Please, you have to listen to me. You have to fight this."
She wanted to fight it, but she just couldn't. As Clark curled into a a ball on the floor in front of her, writhing in pain, she simply stood by, watching helplessly.
He stretched one hand out to her. "Please, Lois. It hurts. God, it hurts. Please help me."
She wanted to cry, to scream, to do something... anything. But she couldn't break through the barrier in her mind to make her body respond. In fact, instead of helping him, she felt herself turning away from the man dying in front of her eyes. Then, unable to stop herself, she walked over to another man. An evil monster who was smiling viciously at her.
"Well done, my beautiful..."
Lois woke up with a start, bolting upright into a sitting position, which she quickly regretted when she felt the delayed pain resonate through her brain at the sudden movement. Her head felt like someone had been running a jackhammer inside of it.
It had only been a dream. It wasn't real.
She cracked one eye open slowly and peered at her surroundings. At first, all she could see was a bright green glow. Where was she?
Then she saw something else; something she couldn't mistake for anything else.
Red and blue...
"Cla... Superman!" she yelped when she recognized the unmoving body lying a few feet from her... in the opposite corner of the cage that she could now see they were both trapped inside.
She pulled herself up on her hands and knees, doing her best to ignore the renewed protest of pain from her head, and crawled over to Clark.
His body was face down, turned away from her. He wasn't moving. Was he alive? Maybe it hadn't been a dream at all...
"Superman," she called to him softly, reaching out to touch him. Her fingers hovered apprehensively above his shoulder, afraid of what she might find if she turned him over. She took a steadying breath and then grabbed hold of his shoulders and rolled him towards her.
Her breath escaped in a gasp when she saw his face. He was bruised! An ugly purple bruise stained his left cheekbone and continued all the way up to his eyebrow. How? How could he be bruised? Superman didn't bruise. And yet, there it was -- staring her in the face. Had he fallen and hit his face? Had someone hit him?
Had Lex hit him? The thought made her blood boil. If he had, he was going to pay.
She lifted Clark's head up and laid it in her lap, stroking her fingers across his forehead to smooth away a few strands of hair that had fallen across his eyes.
"Oh, Cla..." she broke off before she could finish his name. She didn't know if she was being watched so she couldn't afford to even whisper his name to him. And, yet, it was the only thing she really wanted to say. She wanted to say his name. She wanted to talk to him.
She wanted him to wake up.
"Oh, Superman," she said instead, caressing his forehead softly with her fingertips. "What has he done to you? I'm so sorry." She leaned down awkwardly and tried to hug him against her. "Please wake up. Please be okay."
Lois closed her eyes and tried to concentrate, tried to recall what had happened. She remembered having a conversation with Mrs. Cox about Constance and mind control... and then nothing.
A lump formed in her throat and she opened her eyes to look back down at the man she held in her arms.
What had *Lex* done... no, what had *she* done? Had she been a part of whatever had caused this?
What *had* caused this? Lois scanned the room carefully, finally taking note of what was producing the eerie green glow she had noticed when she first opened her eyes. It was the bars of their cage. They seemed to be practically radiating a green light. Almost like a neon sign or something. What was that all about?
Clark moaned and shifted in her arms. Lois's breath caught in her chest and she moved her hand down from his hair to pat his cheek softly. "Wake up. We have to get out of here. Wake up, Superman."
His only response was to moan some more.
"Come on. Wake up!" Lois patted his cheek with a little more force, but it only resulted in more groaning from him. She finally gave his cheek a smart slap.
"Ouch," he complained in more of a croak than a voice as he cracked one eyelid to look at her. "Lois?"
"Come on, Superman. You have to get up. We have to get out of here," she explained, attempting to help him up from the hard concrete floor.
"I..." he began as she pulled harder on him.
Lois grunted from the effort, breathing heavily. "You know, you could help me a little. I think you're just a bit stronger than I am," she remarked dryly.
Clark winced when he slipped from her struggling arms and hit his head on the concrete beneath him. "Ouch," he said again, closing his eyes against the barrage of pain that he could now feel so clearly. He almost wished he had hit his head hard enough to slip into blissful oblivion again. At least when he had been unconscious, he couldn't feel the pain.
If he lived ten lifetimes without ever having an occasion to meet up with Kryptonite again, it wouldn't be long enough. He still wasn't exactly sure why a piece of his home planet was so toxic to him.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Lois apologized, patting his head awkwardly. "But if you would just..."
"I can't," he said miserably.
Lois scrunched her face up at him and furrowed her brow. "You can't... what? Help me? Get up? Or are..."
"It's Kryptonite," he explained through gritted teeth before taking a labored breath and then letting out a rasping cough.
"Kryptonite?" Her brow furrowed further. "You mean the stuff that Trask...?" She broke off when he nodded at her. It was real? She didn't want to believe it. Superman was invincible -- nothing could hurt him.
"What does it do to you?" she asked, her voice thick with concern.
"It... weakens me... makes me... vulnerable."
Lois bit at her lip. "Can it..." She hesitated for a second before finally blurting out, "Kill you?"
Clark winced again as he struggled to sit up. The world swirled around him in a vortex of vertigo and he lay back down. "I'm not sure... maybe..."
"Maybe? Maybe!" she exclaimed and then flinched when the shrillness in her voice reverberated through her head, reviving the dull ache that had begun to subside. "Sorry," she murmured when she realized Clark had the same look of pain on his face that she was feeling. "So where is the Kryptonite? Have you seen it? What does it look like? I mean, if I can get out of this cage, is it something I can get rid of?"
Clark reeled under her barrage of questions and held up one hand as if to halt them. He tried to focus past the pain. He had to help Lois so she could help him -- so they could both get out of here alive. "It looks like a chunk of rock," he explained and watched as Lois began frantically scanning the room for an item with that short description. "But it gives off a green glow..."
"Like the bars of our cage?"
She got up slowly from the floor, steadying herself by hanging onto one of the bars and then she pulled herself closer to take a better look. It was like the bars were infused or impregnated somehow with the odd green glow -- almost like a neon sign.
"Do you think the bars are somehow radiating it?" she asked, tearing her eyes from the bars and looking back down at him.
Clark reached out with one hand and brought it close to the bars. The pain was searing, as if his flesh might literally catch on fire if he touched them. "Yes, I think so," he ground out.
"So it's like they're powered by Kryptonite or it's being fed into them somehow." She reached through the bars and started feeling around on the other side of them.
"What... are you... doing?" he grunted, pulling himself to the center of the cage. He wanted so desperately to get away from the source of his pain but, while the center of the cage was the furthest point away from any of the bars, he wasn't sure the pain was any better. Now it just seemed to be coming at him from all directions.
"I'm looking for the source," she explained absently, still feeling around. "Lex has to have something feeding the Kryptonite into this cage." She scoured the outside perimeter of the cage, feeling along all the edges and surfaces. Halfway around the enclosure, she stopped abruptly and looked up.
There was a cable coming down from the ceiling that attached to the top of the cage.
"Do you think you have enough strength to lift me up there?" she asked Clark, pointing at the top of the cage. It was only a few feet above their heads, but out of jumping range. Maybe if she had tennis shoes instead of pumps, and pants instead of a skirt, she might have actually been able to climb up the bars -- but in her current situation... no, it wouldn't be a good idea. If he could lift her just a couple of feet, she could grab the bars above them.
Clark gave her a weak nod. Deep down, he knew there was no way he could do it. He didn't even think he had the strength to pull himself up from the floor. But he had to try. He had to try for Lois. He had to find a way to get her out of here, get her to safety. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and mustered every last ounce of strength he had left. He staggered up from the floor and reached out for her, attempting to hoist her up. But Lois stopped him, waving his hands and arms away.
"Wait," she said softly. "Just wait a moment. Catch your breath." She put her arms around him and encouraged him to lean against her. She swayed unsteadily when she felt him relax into her arms. The weight of his body was heavier than she was expecting... and he probably wasn't even putting his full weight on her. If he couldn't lift her up there, they were in trouble because there was sure as hell no way she could lift him up.
"Lois," he murmured into the curve of her neck. "I'm so sorry... about what happened... at your apartment... I..."
"No," she interrupted him. "We aren't going to talk about that. It doesn't matter right now. We have to get out of here -- that's all that matters right now."
"Is it?" he asked softly.
"Yes." She pulled away from him to look into his eyes and shook her head softly. "How did you even end up here? I thought you promised that you would stay away? That you would be careful?"
"Like you?" he managed to tease and then let out a raspy cough.
Lois snorted. "You better be glad you're already hurt," she threatened, trying her best to give him a small smile. The smile didn't last long. It melted quickly away and she let out a soft sigh. "Seriously, why did you come here? Didn't you realize you were walking into a trap?"
Clark pulled his eyes from her probing gaze and glanced down at where their bodies still embraced one another. "Yeah. I guess. I just didn't know how complex the trap was... I didn't realize you were under his control, too."
Lois frowned. "What do you mean? What happened?"
"I think I feel a little stronger, Lois," he answered her, evading her questions as he pulled away from her. "Let's see if I can lift..."
"What happened?" she repeated firmly, not relinquishing her hold on him. She knew that she should let it go for now, concentrate on getting out of here, but the reporter in her wouldn't let her. "How did you end up in here?"
"I thought I could rescue you," he continued reluctantly. "But when Luthor led me down here to you, I wasn't expecting..." He broke off, seized by an uncontrollable cough. His legs felt like they wanted to give way beneath him, but Lois was doing her best to keep him standing. After a few seconds the coughing stopped and his breathing became less labored.
Lois gave him an encouraging squeeze. "You weren't expecting...?"
He swallowed, trying to fight against the urge to cough again and yet not wanting to answer her question. But he knew she would press him until he told her. "Luthor had you under his control," he continued in barely a whisper. "You told me that you wanted me to celebrate your engagement to Luthor." He shut his eyes briefly, wishing he could block out that particularly unpleasant memory. "I decided that even if I had to take you against your will, I was going to grab you and fly us out of here..."
"So why didn't you?" she interrupted, hating herself for pressing him like this when he was clearly hurting but yet, needing to know the answer. "Surely you knew that I..."
"I couldn't," he whispered miserably. "You... you..."
"I what?" she asked, biting at her lip. "Cl..." She caught herself and cleared her throat. "Superman, what did I do?"
"You were wearing a Kryptonite necklace," he answered quietly. The effort just to talk was becoming more excruciating by the second and each sentence he spoke threatened to send him into another coughing fit. "It took me by surprise. I fell down the stairs and when you came to me at the bottom, you... you put it around my neck." Clark slumped back down to the floor, unable to remain standing any longer.
Lois followed him down to the floor, feeling like someone had stolen the air from her lungs. It was her fault. She had done this to him. She had trapped him like this... hurt him like this.
After a few seconds of wallowing, she pushed the feelings down inside of her. They wouldn't do anything to help her and besides, this was Lex's fault. Everything that had happened the past few days was his doing. But she couldn't dwell on that right now. They had more important things to focus on -- like getting out of here.
"So where's the necklace now?" she asked, needing to fill the silent void with something and not knowing what else to say.
Clark shook his head softly. "I don't know. It's probably what's powering this cage. Luthor must have taken it off of me after I blacked out."
"You blacked out? From the Kryptonite?"
His face blanched and he looked away from her. "Not exactly." He could practically feel her eyes boring into him. "Luthor told me that he was going to use me as a bargaining chip to get you to agree to marry him. He was going to take you overseas and keep me locked away," he explained, once again fighting the urge to cough. "He... He said he was going to use me to break you."
"What?" she cried shrilly. Clark winced and she gave him an apologetic look.
"Yeah. That was kind of my reaction," he agreed, "right before I lunged at him." Lois just gaped at him and he continued, "My attack was short-lived when his fist met my face and the world went black."
Lois's eyes darkened. So Lex had hit him. Hit him? No, he had tried to kill him, and by the shape Clark was in now, he had nearly succeeded. She was absolutely appalled by how thoroughly Lex had deceived her. How could she have thought she was in love with him? How could she have not seen who he really was?
He was a monster.
"Lois?" Clark's soft voice cut into her thoughts. "I'm sorry... I... I can't lift you up there." He hung his head, looking away from her. "I don't think I even have the strength to stand up again."
Lois swallowed the fear that was rising inside of her and bit back the tears that were threatening to spill forth. She had to get him out of here. If she didn't, he was going to die.
She would lose him.
No. No, she couldn't let that happen. There had to be a way. "It's okay," she told him softly. "We'll figure something out. Just lie still." She got up from the floor and walked back over to the bars, continuing her search of them. After just a few more sweeps of the outside edge, she found what she was looking for.
A latch. A handle.
Damn. She had just said to herself the other day that she needed to start carrying a bobby pin on her, just for situations like this. Okay, maybe not like this -- she couldn't possibly have guessed a situation like this -- but she had thought it could still be helpful to have one.
Lois started patting the clothes she was wearing. She had to have something on her that she could use to pick that lock. She smiled self-consciously when an idea came to her. Reaching her right hand inside of the sleeve of her left arm, she pulled the bra strap out and then pulled her arm up and through it.
Clark's eyes went wide. "Lois? What are you doing?"
She reached up with her left hand and pulled her other bra strap out, following the same pattern. "I'm getting us out of here."
He raised an eyebrow at her and let out a rasping cough before replying, "By stripping?"
She smirked at him as she untucked her blouse from her skirt and reached up her back to undo the clasp on her bra. "In your dreams, Farmboy. I think, maybe, if I can get the underwire out of my bra, I can use it to get us out of here."
Clark managed a weak smile before turning his head away. Lois shook her head -- definitely a Farmboy. She wanted to comment on the smile, but instead she pulled the bra out with a triumphant 'ha' and held it up to inspect it. Thank god she'd gone with the underwire bra today.
A grim smile spread across her face. Lex Luthor didn't realize who he was dealing with.
This wasn't over yet.
Lois had just gotten Clark clear of the cage and was contemplating how to help him up the stairs, when she heard sounds coming from the other side of the door at the top of the staircase.
No! Lex was coming back. No, they couldn't get caught now!
She pulled Clark close and whispered into his ear, "I know you're in pain, but whatever strength you've got left, we need it. We've got to hide. Someone's coming."
Clark pointed towards a dark corner of the room where a bunch of wine kegs were stacked. "There. Go there." She took him by the arm and they made their way over to the cubbyhole as quickly as they could. Lois lowered Clark to the floor and just as she was about to join him, the door to the room violently flung open.
"Sorry, Superman," Lex's voice echoed through the room. "It seems I'm not going to be able to keep you around as long as I thought." Lois heard an odd metallic clang and then footsteps coming down the stairs. "I'll just take my pound of flesh and..."
Lex broke off and Lois imagined it was because he had just realized the cage was empty. She forced herself to remain calm and keep her breathing even. He hadn't found them yet. He didn't know where they were. And even if he figured it out, she would deal with that when it happened.
An ear-splitting roar suddenly boomed through the room causing Lois to jerk, despite herself.
"No!" Lex bellowed. There was a loud crash and footsteps on the stairs and then the door slammed shut.
"Come on," Lois whispered, tugging on Clark.
"No, Lois, wait," he said, pulling his arm free. "I can't go like this." He gestured down at what he was wearing. "Stand watch by the door and see if you can find something to barricade it with while I change."
Lois felt dumbstruck. Their lives were being threatened and he wanted to change his outfit? How could he even change? Where were his clothes?
The pleading look on his face told her that now was not the time to ask the questions that were bouncing around in her head. Clark was right. If they managed to get out of the LexCorp building, he was in no position to fly and he probably shouldn't be seen dressed as Superman, stumbling weakly down the street or hailing a taxi cab. Besides, if they got caught before they got out of here, it might be better if 'Superman' got away.
So if he had a way to 'change', then she might as well let him.
"Guess *you* aren't talented enough to change in front of me?" she teased as she ran towards the stairwell. She glanced up the stairs at the large wooden door that would lead to their freedom.
They had made it this far... if only their luck would hold out.
Lois peered around the corner. The coast was clear. She looked back at Clark and was pleased to note that more color seemed to be coming back to his face. The further away they got from the Kryptonite, the better he seemed to be doing. She mentally shook her head as she watched him finish straightening his tie. When they were out of here and this was over and they were safe, he'd have to tell her where he kept his clothes.
"Okay, Clark. Stick close to me. The doors leading outside are just up ahead of us." Lois pushed away from the wall and started to round the corner when a voice from behind them stopped her cold.
"And just where do you think you're going?" Mrs. Cox asked.
Lois turned around and sneered at the woman. "To the ladies room."
"Where did he come from?" Mrs. Cox asked, gesturing at Clark. "Trying to play hero, are we, Mr. Kent?"
"Clark called the police," Lois lied. "They're on their way now. It's over. Don't make things worse for yourself. Just let us go." She mentally crossed her fingers that the woman would buy her bluff.
Mrs. Cox reached into the purse hanging from her shoulder and pulled out a gun. "No, I think I'll kill you, instead," she said, raising the gun and aiming it at them.
"What? No mind control this time?" Lois retorted, trying to think of a way out of this. "You can't just kill me; I don't think Lex would appreciate that."
"Lex?" Mrs. Cox shrieked. "Lex is dead. You killed him."
The room seemed to turn upside down and Lois grabbed onto Clark to steady herself. "What? What are you talking about?"
"The police are already here, Ms. Lane. They came for him. And rather than face prison time, he launched himself off the top floor of this building." Her eyes flashed wickedly at Lois. "You drove him to his death. You stole him from me," she spat. "He took his life and now I'm going to take yours. My last gift to him -- sending you to meet him."
She cocked the gun and aimed it at Lois.
"No!" Clark shouted, wrapping Lois in his arms and turning his back to take the bullet that he knew was coming.
"Clark, no!" Lois cried, struggling in his arms.
The gunshot echoed through the hallway and Lois jerked at the sound. As she felt Clark's body suddenly tense around her, tears instantly sprung into her eyes and began streaming down her face. "No. No, Clark," she breathed. She tried to pull free of him, tried to turn around where she could see what was happening.
Another gunshot went off and the sound seemed to pierce her heart.
"NO!" Lois screamed.
"Lois," Clark said her name softly. "It's okay. I'm okay," he assured her gently, slowly relinquishing his hold on her.
"Wh...what?" she mumbled. "How?" She let out a shuddery breath as she turned to face him.
And that's when she saw him.
He was running towards the now lifeless body of Mrs. Cox that was lying on the floor behind them.
Henderson had saved them.
He had saved Superman.
Lois dropped the newspaper she was holding onto Perry's desk. He scowled as he read the headline out loud. "Luthor Dead -- Superman Exonerated." He shook his head and muttered something indistinguishable.
"What's the matter, Chief?" she asked, hiding a smile. "It's an exclusive. That's got to make you and the suits upstairs happy."
"Happy? Oh, sure. I'm ecstatic," he told her, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
"You should be," she assured him. "Everything worked out all right in the end. I mean, at least the paper's safe. I heard the Planet's gotten offers from a minimum of three other investors who..."
"Yeah, it has," he conceded, interrupting her. He was still scowling.
"Then what is it?" she probed.
"They're hiding something, Lois. You know it and I know it. And it had to be something big for them to classify the details like that. Sure, we got the exclusive, but an exclusive of what? Squat, that's what!" He shook his head in irritation. "'Details classified due to matters of national security.' I'd give my pension to be able to print what really happened." He paused and glanced up at her with a knowing look.
Lois smiled innocently at him. If he only knew.
She hadn't been willing to accept the fact that Clark's life had been spared, only to realize that he could never again be Superman because of what had happened.
That idea had been unthinkable to her -- and unacceptable.
After listening to Henderson explain why he had come to LexCorp, and after making sure that Clark had a believable excuse to get him safely away from the building, it had taken her hours to debrief Henderson on what had really happened.
Thank god for that gemologist. He had contacted Henderson about the diamond that had been stolen from him. Apparently Mrs. Cox had tried to threaten him into selling the diamond to her. When he had watched the press announcement on TV regarding Lex's procurement of the Daily Planet, he had recognized Mrs. Cox standing next to Lex. He hadn't really believed that Lex Luthor himself could have been involved, but he had reported the connection to Henderson anyway.
Henderson had added that report to the information that Lois's uncle had phoned in for Clark -- and then he had taken action.
But even with all of the facts and information at Henderson's disposal, it had taken Lois several more hours to convince him to help her with a cover-up story.
She could still see the look of shock on his face when she had first asked for his help.
<<<"You know I can't do that, Lois," Henderson told her adamantly. "I have to arrest him."
"What? No. No, you can't do that. What is he guilty of?" she asked stubbornly.
He cocked a disbelieving eyebrow at her. "He robbed a bank, for starters."
"Are you certain of that?"
He crossed his arms and frowned at her. "What do you mean?"
She opened her hand and held out the engagement ring to him. "Lex gave me this ring. This is the diamond that was stolen from the vault. I'm sure if you dig deep enough into his financial records, you'll find the rest of the missing money and assets."
Henderson nodded his head slowly. "Perhaps. But no matter who has the money, Superman still committed the actual theft and he also wounded those kids at the other bank robbery. He's a loose cannon."
"No. That's not him. You know it's not, Henderson. Lex had him under mind control..."
Henderson snorted. "Mind control? You've been reading too much science fiction lately, Lane...">>>
Only after she had explained to Henderson about the cover-ups she had done to protect Superman had he understood what had happened. He had finally realized that Superman wasn't really at fault.
If they wanted to pin the blame on someone, that honor belonged to Lex Luthor, and him alone.
<<<"I can't believe it," Henderson told her, shaking his head.
"I know," she agreed.
"No. I mean... how could you cover all that up, Lane? What about your journalistic integrity?"
"I didn't lie," she defended herself. "I only hid certain facts. Facts that, if they had gotten out, other criminals might have tried to use against Superman.">>>
It had taken a lot to convince Henderson that she needed his help, that this information was dangerous and had to be kept hidden; but in the end, he had finally seen reason. If the criminal element knew that Superman was susceptible to something like mind control, every two-bit crook out there would be trying to find a way to get him under their control.
<<<"Well, I'm gonna need the mayor's help on this one," Henderson said, a curious smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. "But the mayor owes me one -- more than one, actually.">>>
Henderson had saved Superman in more than one way that day. Lois glanced back down at Perry, who was still scowling at the paper he was holding.
"So what do you think really happened, Chief?" she asked nonchalantly.
"I don't know, Lois," he huffed. "But somehow I get the feeling that it would be even bigger than if Elvis walked through my door right now, eating a donut."
And then, as if on cue, Clark walked through Perry's door... taking a bite out of the glazed donut he was holding.
"What?" Clark asked, giving the appearance of naivety when their heads turned to look at him.
Perry rolled his eyes in disgust and Lois gave Clark a small smile. He had to have been listening, in order to have timed his entrance that perfectly.
Clark and Lois had walked for several blocks in silence, each quietly contemplating the events of the past few days. Each wondering when the other was finally going to say something. Things had been a little awkward between them, but with everything that had been happening, they had just shoved their feelings to the side.
Now, it was over. Lex was dead. Superman's name had been cleared; the charges had been dropped. And the story had been printed. Case closed. Now they had to face the reality of what had happened.
Clark cleared his throat softly, contemplating how to begin. "It's a beautiful night out, isn't it?"
Lois nodded her head at him and let a few seconds of silence pass before she decided to open up the conversation a bit. "Yeah, I bet the view of the city from the air would be amazing."
Clark immediately stopped walking and turned to face her. "Do you want to see it?" His powers had been coming back gradually, little by little. He thought he was strong enough now that he could take her up, if she wanted him to.
"Not right now," she told him gently. "Maybe later."
She was about to start walking again when Clark's hand came out to grasp her gently by the elbow.
"We need to talk," he said quietly. "I know you're mad at me..."
"I'm not mad," she said simply.
"Yes, you are. I know you're upset that I lied to you."
Lois was about to respond when part of her conversation with Henderson flashed through her mind.
<"I didn't lie... I only hid certain facts...">
That's what she had told Henderson. She had hid certain facts about Superman. Was that any different than what Clark had done?
Possibly. But, if she was honest with herself, he wasn't the only one guilty of being duplicitous.
"You didn't lie," she told him softly. "You merely hid certain facts about yourself."
"Yeah, facts that made you believe that I was two different people," he pointed out. Why was she being so calm? He had been waiting for the explosion to happen, now that she knew he was Superman. He had been dreading the accusations, the hurt... the anger. Only now, it didn't seem like it was going to come.
"Well, yes, there is that," she agreed, her face unreadable.
Clark shifted uneasily on his feet. He had known that this wasn't going to be easy, but until now, he hadn't realized it was going to be so hard.
"Please," he pleaded. "Tell me what you want me to do. Tell me where I stand with you. I can't go on like this," he told her, releasing a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. "I know what I did to you was horrible, unimaginable. If I've ruined things between us, if we can't ever go back to the way things were before, please... tell me."
Lois smiled softly at him. "Yes, what you did was 'unimaginable', but not unforgivable. I would have never expected you or Superman to behave the way you did that night." She shook her head as she continued, "But that's the thing-- *that* wasn't *you*."
Clark looked like he wanted to interject, but she held up a hand to stop him. "That was no more your fault than almost killing you was my fault."
He looked at her in shock, opening and closing his mouth a couple of times but remaining silent.
"You know I'm right, Clark," she continued determinedly before he could find his voice. "If Lex had finished what he started, you'd be dead right now, and that would be partly on me." She reached out and took his hands in hers. "Can you imagine how that makes me feel? Can you imagine the guilt I would have carried with me? The guilt I already feel over the pain you endured?"
"But you didn't know... you weren't in control of..."
"And neither were you," she reminded him. "We can't let what Luthor did to us, or used us to do to each other, keep us from being together. If we do, then he wins."
A look of disgust washed over Clark's face. "I hadn't thought about it quite like that."
Lois smiled at him and looked up into the dark sky above them. "I think maybe I'm ready for that flight now."
His face split into a wide grin and he glanced around to see if anyone was watching. Taking hold of her hand, he led them into an alley where he could make a quick change.
Lois stood wide-eyed, her mouth parted slightly in amazement as Clark backed away from her and spun out of his clothes and into his Suit.
"Wow," she breathed.
He flashed her a smile that arced through her, igniting every nerve ending in her body. It was a smile that she hadn't seen in awhile, and she hadn't realized until just then how much she had missed it... how much she wanted to see it.
"Ready?" he asked softly, extending his hand to her.
"Mmm-hmm." As she accepted his hand, he pulled her into his arms and lifted them off the ground in one smooth motion.
And then they were flying.
They were lifting higher and higher into the cool night sky. The damp air made her want to nestle even closer against his warm body, but the amazing view beneath them called out to her. People were milling around and vehicles were passing beneath them, a strangely orchestrated dance that moved from one end of the city to the other. Lights in houses and apartment buildings twinkled on and off as people moved about hurriedly inside of them.
Then as they rose even higher into the air, she could no longer make out individual people or cars. It all began to blend together in a beautiful symphony of light and movement. It was breathtaking.
Clark watched Lois's face delight as she took in the view below them. He had flown with her a few times as Superman -- but never like this. He was always flying her away from some catastrophe... rescuing her from probable death.
This was the first time he had flown with her since she had learned of his secret. She wasn't flying with Superman. She was flying with Clark.
Gazing at her, he realized that she had a far-off look on her face, like she was thinking about something. He gave her a gentle squeeze. "What is it?"
"Hmmm? Oh, I was just thinking."
"About what?" he prompted.
If it wasn't so dark out, he would have sworn she was blushing. As it was, he couldn't really tell. But by the sweet smile she had on her face, he was willing to bet he was right.
"What?" he asked again.
"I was thinking about something that someone said to me about Superman acting out the seven sins," she admitted, biting her bottom lip.
Clark flinched. He didn't really want to think about that again. But he couldn't help it, his curiosity was piqued. "What about it?"
"Well... it did seem like that's what Lex was doing -- having you act out the seven sins," she said hesitantly and then paused before continuing, "Who knows what his purpose was or what the point of all of it was. Maybe he was trying to discredit you to the world, like he had tried to with me?" She got quiet again, but then gave him a crooked grin. "But, I can't help thinking... didn't you miss one?"
"Miss one?" Where was she going with this?
"If I'm not mistaken, isn't 'gluttony' one of the seven sins?" she explained. "I didn't see you hitting any all-you-can-eat buffets the past couple of days." She flashed him a teasing smile. They had a long road ahead of them, but they were going to have to learn to laugh again and let go of what had happened if they wanted to move past it and not obsess over it.
Clark returned her smile and shook his head softly. "What if 'gluttony' isn't about food?"
Lois furrowed her eyebrows in bemusement. "What do you mean?"
"Well, I've never been able to get enough of you," he admitted softly. This time her blush was deep enough that he could make it out clearly.
"And let's hope you never will."