By Shayne Terry <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: December, 2007
Summary: With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Lois embarks on a quest to change the past and save Superman.
"It might be easier to just seek grief counseling." Dr. Klein stared at her soberly. "The risks of this can't be understated."
Seven hundred days. Lois shook her head. She'd lived seven hundred days without either of the men in her life, and it had left such a void within her that sometimes she felt she was nothing more than a walking shell. She'd had a chance at happiness, and she'd let it slip away.
"I'm your girl," she said. Anything would be better than living an endless succession of days feeling like she was now. Even if this exploded in her face, at least she'd have made a difference.
Dr. Klein handed her a sheaf of papers. "If this doesn't work, these won't matter anyway, but the boys upstairs are a little funny about things like this."
Lois looked blindly at the waivers before her. No one in history had ever attempted anything like what they were asking her to do, and all they could worry about was liability.
The world was ending in less than a week, and the lawyers were still worried about lawsuits.
All that stood between the world and destruction was the shadow of a dead hero and the determination of a woman in love.
It was ironic that she hadn't been able to make her decision until it was too late. She'd been courted by three men- a hero, a villain, and an ordinary man. It wasn't until it was too late that she discovered who she'd really cared for.
The world needed Superman, but Lois needed Clark.
If everything worked, she'd have both.
If it didn't, she'd be scattered across the universe, a shower of particles separated in time and space until there were no signs she'd ever existed.
Either way, she was not going to wake on day seven hundred and one with the same sense of loss.
It was time to change the world.
As the straps were placed tightly on her body, Lois grimaced. Whether things worked or not, she wouldn't have a body to come back to.
A one-way trip, scattering her body across the winds of time, but placing her mind in her body at an earlier point in her life. It had been largely theoretical eighteen months ago, but given the need, it had been made top priority; one of a dozen projects to make sure that humanity survived.
At least she wasn't going to be one of the people on a spaceship, frozen using Nazi era technology in hopes of someday being revived and restarting life on the planet.
She felt numb, her body overwhelmed by adrenaline. She wondered if this was how people being led to the gas chamber felt, this weird detachment from reality. It was as though everything was being filtered through a distant lens.
A sudden bout of nausea and a stab of fear, but Lois tightened her lips and closed her eyes, trying to block out the sounds of hundreds of people scurrying back and forth
She felt the urge to struggle against her bonds, and stiffened as she felt the pin prick of an injection.
Opening her eyes, she saw Dr. Klein looking down on her sorrowfully. He reached out and grasped her hand.
"We can't risk sending you back after he died." He said. "So we'll try to send you back a little early. Three years maybe."
That would send her back to the day she met Clark, maybe. Lois found herself smiling. She'd have a chance to do things over, better.
No more "You're the before, and Superman is the after."
She felt her anxiety begin to drain away.
The sounds of the massive turbines powering the effort began to blot everything else, and Lois felt herself stiffen.
Something was wrong. They'd never said there would be pain.
She screamed as she felt herself being ripped apart atom by atom, as her essence was flung into the void.
Her journey had begun.
Xanadu played softly in the darkness. Lois woke confused, unsure of why this morning was different from every other morning of her life. For the first time since she could remember, the familiar feelings of grief were replaced with anticipation.
The world seemed new again, yet somehow achingly familiar.
Opening her eyes slowly, she was faced with the sight of something she'd never expected to see again. A wall covered in posters- Charlie's Angels, Einstein, Sting, Woodward and Bernstein, and various ribbons and awards. The smell of a thousand mismatched perfumes.
This was a place that smelled familiar, though not like home. This was just the place her father had made.
Home was the smell of clean aftershave and newsprint and the glint of light off a pair of glasses.
School books and scattered clothing piled all around her. Leg warmers...tennis shoes on the floor with multicolored laces. All it took was one look at the clothes, with their retro eighties styles and her worst fears were realized.
She closed her eyes. It was a one-way trip, and she'd only been supposed to relive the past three years. Instead they'd sent her back maybe ten years farther than that.
Instead of Lois Lane, respected reporter, she was Lo-Lo, rebel and general screw-up. She was in her father's house, though from the look of things it wouldn't be long before the argument that would send her out to live on her own.
The prospect of living through it all over again should have been overwhelming, but one thought kept rolling over and over in her mind.
They were both alive.
Seven hundred mornings she'd woken with just the opposite thought, and for the first morning since she could remember, that weight was off her chest.
They were alive, and this time everything would be different.
She'd had a long time to sort out her feelings for both of them, and Lois knew the truth. She respected Superman, but she loved Clark.
In her mind she'd saved them both seven hundred times. She'd been more curious about Lex, she'd fought her way down to the secret lab. She'd warned Clark before Lex had a chance to make him disappear.
This morning was morning seven hundred and one...this morning she could make it happen. If she had to wait ten years, so be it.
Lois slowly relaxed and slipped off into sleep.
She'd find them both in time.
The voices in the next room woke her. She'd almost been afraid to wake up, for fear that it had been all a dream.
She slid out of bed, wincing at the cold air that hit her. Her father had always preferred to keep his home cold; he claimed it kept down germs.
Lois had just thought he was cheap. It had been a minor argument between them, one of many that had separated them for all those years.
She slid into a pair of jeans, happy to find one that wasn't too tight. She picked the most mature top in her closet- one that had been wadded up and thrown in the back. It had been a gift, if she recalled correctly, one that she hadn't appreciated.
She was thankful for it now. Looking at the other clothing in her overstuffed closet made her shudder.
Dressing quickly, she headed for the kitchen. She gasped as she saw who was sitting at the small table with her father.
The small, bare Christmas tree on the table was the last piece to the puzzle. She knew exactly when this was now. This was Christmas, 1984; the last time she'd seen her grandmother alive.
"Is something wrong, dear?"
Lois hadn't been able to stop staring. She'd made such a mess of things the first time around, arguing with her father and storming out of the house. She'd missed most of the day with her grandmother, and by the time she'd come back, the woman had been gone.
Today had been different. The things her father did that had enraged her the first time around were now just irritants, easily ignored in the interests of the holiday.
Lois and her grandmother had talked for hours. They'd played cards, and dominoes, and some of the games that Lois had disdained as a teenager as being too boring. Her father had finally left them alone, slipping off to watch football.
"Grandma....I love you." Lois hesitated. "I know I haven't said it much in the past few years. I've been dealing with some things." Lois blinked, and was surprised to feel tears come to her eyes.
"What's bringing this all up?"
"Have you been to a doctor, lately?" Lois asked finally. "At your age, it can't hurt to be careful."
"I'm as healthy as a horse." Her grandmother shook her head. "I've never been to a doctor in my life."
"I really wish you would start." Lois sighed. She wasn't sure it wasn't too late already. "I'm going for my first pap smear next week. Come with me. You can get a mammogram, and then we'll go out for Cokes."
"Isn't that your mother's place? She's a nurse..."
"I don't think we've been spending enough time together." Lois said. "Come with me...show me how not to be scared. You always did that for me."
Her grandmother sipped her cider, then nodded slowly.
It was Lois's best Christmas ever.
She'd keep her promise to her grandmother. If it was already too late, this was the only time she'd have left with her.
And there was always the chance of a Christmas Miracle.
It was almost midnight by the time her grandmother left. Her father grumbled something about going to bed, then stumbled off, leaving Lois to lock up.
She went through her evening ritual as though she'd never left it, checking the doors and windows, making sure all the lights were out and no fires were lit.
It was only as she passed the telephone that temptation began to rear its ugly head.
If it was midnight here, it'd be eleven in Smallville. The Kents were probably already asleep. Clark would be home from college, but there was no telling how long he would stay. Today was the only day he was guaranteed to be at home.
She slowly washed the last of the dishes, her mind racing. It was late and only getting later, but she'd traveled across the winds of time to make sure that he stayed alive.
Any changes she made now would make the future unpredictable. Her best bet would be to live her life and leave him alone. Time would play out as it had the first time, and in the fullness of time, he would come to her.
Sure, that would mean ten years without ever seeing him, or speaking to him, or even knowing if he was still alive, but it would keep him alive until the point when she could do something about it.
That would be the noble road.
Deep down, though, Lois's decision had never been in doubt. What if she'd been sent to some alternate timeline where Clark Kent had never even existed? The physicists had reassured her that she was traveling through her own timeline, but what did they know, really?
Before she could second-guess herself, she grabbed the telephone and pulled it as far around the corner as she could. She grimaced at the rotary dial. It had been old fashioned even at this point in time. She'd hated it then, and now....now it was almost unbearable.
She knew the Kent's number by heart. She'd called Martha more times than she could remember, trying to share her grief.
The dial moved with maddening slowness, and Lois found herself fidgeting. What was she going to say? This Martha didn't know her. This Martha hadn't developed the easy camaraderie of shared grief. To this Martha, she would be nothing more than a strange teenage girl calling from another state.
At long last the phone began to ring.
One ring. Two. Lois felt herself stiffening, her stomach tightening in anticipation and nervousness. Her palms were sweating.
Three, four. This was a clear sign that they weren't still awake. Lois felt a sudden stab of doubt. Maybe it would be better to call them in the morning.
It would still be the holiday, and surely Clark wouldn't go back to college for another week yet.
Five. Lois's hand twitched. She should hang up now. Call them later, when she'd had a chance to think up something to say, to make some excuse to hear their son's voice on the phone.
She'd just made the decision to hang up when the distinctive click of the receiver being lifted on the other end came to her.
It was the voice she'd never thought she'd hear again, not since the tape on her tape recorder had finally worn through from being played over and over again.
Clark Kent spoke again. "Hello."
It was a voice from the grave, one that had sounded in her head every night as she was going to bed. Clark Kent was alive, and on the other end of the line.
"Hello," he said again.
He was going to hang up...Lois was sure of it. She could feel her chest tightening, and tears come to her eyes. She opened her mouth to speak, and to her horror, she discovered that nothing came out.
She coughed a little.
"Lana, is that you?" he asked, lowering his voice.
"Um, no," Lois said.
Lana? She didn't remember him ever mentioning a Lana.
"Can I help you?"
His voice was polite, but there wasn't a hint of recognition. Not that there would be. He didn't know her, had never met her. She was a stranger to him.
For a moment she was tempted to hang up. It passed.
She cleared her throat. "My name is Lois Lane." Her talent for improvisation hadn't deserted her. "I'm a senior at Metropolis High school, and I have a school report to write for my journalism class. I'm supposed to do a profile on a college athlete."
"Wouldn't it be easier to get something on someone local?" Clark's voice sounded suspicious, not at all like the open and trusting man she'd remembered. "And it's sort of weird that you have an assignment over the holiday."
"I'm actually trying to get an internship with the Daily Planet," Lois said, which had the advantage of being true. "Getting some on the job experience before I get into college. My journalism teacher has a little pull with the editor there, so if I can show him that I have potential, I just may get to spend my next semester getting coffee for real reporters."
"The Planet's a great paper," Clark admitted. "I've always sort of wanted to work there myself. I'd think it'd be a tough program to get into."
"I'm one of the top three applicants out of six hundred."
"It still doesn't explain why you'd want to talk to me," Clark said. "How did you get my number anyway?"
"I ran into your Aunt Opal the other day," Lois said.
In the days after Clark's death, she'd called Martha. She'd talked to her more than she'd ever talked to her own mother. They'd shared their pain, and Lois had always been eager to hear Martha's stories about Clark's childhood, his family. If Martha had seemed reserved about some things, Lois understood. It wasn't as if she'd been his wife, or anyone special in his life.
She could have been. It had broken her heart the day Martha had confirmed what Clark had told her on that last evening. He'd loved her, and she'd thrown it all away. She'd seen the hurt in his eyes when she'd asked to see Superman.
She'd been a fool.
Lois continued with her story. "She bragged about you for quite a while. Gave me your number."
She heard Clark muttering for a moment. Aunt Opal was a known busybody.
"So what do you want to know?"
"What's it like, playing in college." It was a stupid question, and nothing Lois really wanted to know, but it was all she could think of at the moment.
"It's a lot like high school. The players are better, and the stadiums are bigger," Clark said, "But really, the game is the game."
"I hear you are quite gifted." Lois said. "Uh, from Opal."
Clark's voice took on that odd note again, the one Lois had sometimes heard in Martha's voice. "I get by. My parents aren't rich, and the scholarship really makes it a lot easier for them. Without it, I guess I'd just about have to give up eating."
"So you don't want to be a professional ball player?" Lois asked. "I thought that was every college player's dream."
"I don't have any illusions about my talents. I wouldn't fit into a professional team, and besides, I want more from my life."
"Oh?" Lois asked.
"I want to make a difference. Bad things happen to people every day, and it just kills me sometimes that nobody does anything about it. That's why I'm going into journalism. If you really want to change the world, you can go into politics or journalism."
"And politics costs too much."
"I don't think I could make those kinds of compromises," Clark said.
Lois heard the sounds of Martha calling from the background.
"Listen, do you think we could continue this later?" she hesitated, her mind racing. "I'm going to be in Smallville this week sometime. Maybe we could meet up and talk."
"I'm going back to Wichita after New Year's day," Clark said. "But if you catch me before then, sure, why not?"
"You don't know how much this means to me," Lois said.
She was going to see him.
She had less than two hundred dollars.
Lois had forgotten what it was like to be a cash-starved teenager. She'd been used to the privileges of being a professional- being able to buy what she wanted when she wanted it. At this point in her life, she didn't even have her own car. When she needed to drive somewhere, she had to borrow her father's vehicle. He was a doctor, and yet somehow his experiments always seemed to eat up all the money, leaving little for anything else. That had been another source of contention between them, one that had ended with Lois looking for her own sources of money.
She already had the internship. It was going to be tough to go back to working at the bottom, but if that was what she was going to have to do, that was what she was going to have to do. In the meantime, that left her with the problem of being short of cash.
Her grandmother loved her, but lived on a fixed income. Lucy spent her money even faster than Lois had. Her parents would want to know what the money was for. Her friends were just as cash strapped as she was.
Lois stared at the kitchen table, her bowl of soggy whole-wheat cereal sitting forgotten as she felt a sudden wave of depression. She'd traveled across time, just to be stymied by the lack of a few hundred dollars.
Her father dropped a section of the paper, and Lois reached for it dispiritedly. Maybe she'd have to get a job, hold off on going to Smallville for a while until she earned enough to...
She stiffened as she noticed an article in the paper, then felt a surge of excitement.
She knew exactly what she was going to do.
Lois stepped off the bus grimacing in disgust. She hadn't remembered the distinctive smell of urine, but then, she'd always avoided taking mass transportation other than taxis.
She couldn't afford the expense of one now. She'd raided the couch for enough spare change to make it here and back.
She glanced around, then set off at a quick walk. All the money she owned in the world was hidden in her pockets. The last thing she needed was to be mugged.
It was a three-block walk, and Lois had time to think about what she was doing. Her memory seemed pretty clear, but there was always the chance that she was thinking of a different event, one that happened later.
Clearly she had to go for it. Memorable events like these were few and far between. She wouldn't have another one for almost a year, and she couldn't wait that long.
Finally she came to a nondescript door. She knocked impatiently.
A familiar face appeared as the door opened. Still rail thin, his face was rounder than when she'd last seen it. A flash of memory, and Lois's expression softened.
"I'm sorry to hear about your mother."
Bobbie Bigmouth had gone to Clark's funeral, and it had surprised Lois how much it had meant to her that he'd been there.
He wasn't Bobbie Bigmouth now, of course. His compulsive eating hadn't started until after his mother's death. Oddly, the more he ate, the thinner he'd gotten. Now he was just Robert Doherty, a small time money runner who was not that much older than Lois.
"Thanks," he said, one hand holding the door shut.
"What can I do for you?" Bobbie glanced nervously up and down the street and didn't look her in the eyes.
"Is Louie around?" Lois asked.
"You coming for your dad?" Bobbie asked quietly. "I didn't think he was going to..."
"I'm coming for me." Lois hesitated, then said, "It's business."
Bobbie nodded, then opened the door wide enough for her to slip through.
He made her sit in the lobby while he went for Louie. Lois could hear the sound of pool cues hitting balls in the other room.
After what seemed an interminable length of time, Louie stepped into the room. Lois blinked. Louie looked as though he'd lost a couple of chins. His skin was tighter, and she could really see the effects that 13 years had made on his face.
"What can I do for you?" Louie smiled. He'd always treated her like a favorite niece.
"I know you know guys," Lois said. "I want to place a bet."
The smile dropped from Louie's face. "You placing one for your father? Anything I should know about?"
Lois shook her head. "My father's not even involved with this one. I want to place a bet on the Flannigan- Rodriguez fight."
Louie relaxed. "So you want to make some easy money. You won't make much. Flannigan is a palooka."
Lois remembered the fight vividly. She'd gone to it with her father. Things hadn't gone the way anyone expected.
"I'm betting on a knockout for the third round," she said. Lois pulled out the wad of mismatched bills. "I have three hundred dollars here."
Her original two hundred and another hundred after selling her entire collection of seventies music albums to Lucy. Thankfully, Lucy's Christmas money hadn't slipped out of her grasp yet. Lois knew for certain that she wouldn't have much time for music over the next few years. By the time she did, she'd get everything as CD's. She'd also given away her whole collection of leg warmers and colored shoelaces.
"Well, the odds of Rodriguez knocking Flannigan out in the third might make things a little more even, but..."
"Flannigan's going to knock Rodriguez out," Lois said. "That's the bet I want to make. Flannigan knocks Rodriguez out in the third round."
Louie stared at her for a moment. "Are you crazy?"
Lois shrugged. "What kind of odds would I get for something like that?"
"Thirty to one." Louie said. "It's a suckers bet. Nobody would do it."
"If I'm wrong, I lose three hundred bucks and have to flip burgers a little earlier. If I'm right...well, I've been wanting a set of wheels, and it doesn't look like dad is going to help me out."
Louie frowned. "You're a little young to be gambling."
"When did you ever let a little thing like the law stop you?" Lois gave him her brightest smile.
Louie grimaced and held his hand out for the money.
"Don't do anything for my own good, like not actually placing the bet. I need to learn my lesson." Lois grinned.
Louie shook his head.
The sound of the head hitting the canvas was sweet music to Lois's ears. While everyone around her was staring with jaws dropped as the pasty, lanky figure which had been receiving a heavy beating for the last two rounds suddenly staggered around with his arms held about his head.
Louie was across the ring from her and stared at her with narrowed eyes.
Lois grinned at him unrepentantly.
She had the money she needed. She was one step closer to Smallville.
The VW Bug had seen better days. Painted a garish pink, it was as ugly as Lois remembered, with torn seats, that strange smell coming from the passenger side floorboard, and the air conditioner that didn't work.
This was the car that she'd sworn she'd never set foot in for the rest of her days. She'd worked long and hard to earn enough money to get away from this embarrassment of a vehicle.
In her original life, it had been the first car she'd bought for herself, after she'd left her father's house. It had been all she could afford, even with money borrowed from every friend she had.
She had the money for a better car, but she didn't have the time. If she bought a new vehicle, she'd spend all her money at once, leaving nothing for expenses. If she bought used, she wouldn't know until it was too late that the transmission was smoking, and she'd be on the side of the road, stranded.
Renting a car was out of the question. Her driver's license and face said she was seventeen.
Lois scowled. At least she knew exactly what to expect from this car. It was a mediocre, smelly, gaudy piece of junk, but it was sturdy and dependable. Also, she'd known exactly where to go to find someone who wanted to sell a car. "I'll take it." Six hundred dollars was cheap. At least it left her plenty of money to travel with.
"I'm going on a ski trip for a couple of days," Lois said. Without the constant badgering which had made existence such hell for the both of them the first time around, he'd sunk into an apathetic mood.
He gestured absently from behind the paper, and Lois scowled. She felt old irritations rising to the surface and found herself opening her mouth to speak. Grimacing, she stopped herself and counted to twelve. She didn't have time for this.
She grabbed her bags and headed out the door. Just because she'd been seventeen didn't mean she hadn't been right the first time around. Lois threw her bags onto the passenger's side seat, slid behind the wheel and grimaced. Everything was as she had remembered it, down to the half broken knob on the radio and the strange stain on the passenger's side floor.
She reached down and slipped the vehicle into gear, and pulled out of the driveway.
The traffic wasn't as bad as she remembered, and Lois was soon out of the city. The radio was on with a deft twist of the broken knob, and the car was flooded with the sounds of the Beach Boys. Everything was going to be great. All she had to do was find Clark.
Everything was NOT going to be great. Lois scowled at the sign. Cars crowded together for what seemed like a thousand miles. Her car windows fogging up due to a long forgotten problem with the defroster. She'd had that fixed the first time around...
She pulled out, trying to head for the turn off, and a group of teenagers in a convertible almost slammed into her. In traditional Metropolis fashion, Lois rolled her window down and yelled. Her horn didn't work. She was tempted to add a gesture, but saw an opening and rushed to fill it.
She slid forward three spaces, and then found herself trapped...again.
She cursed to herself. This was going to be a fourteen hundred mile trip almost, and no one knew where she was going. That was a recipe for disaster, especially as she had five thousand dollars stashed in the trunk in the front of her car.
Somehow, the radio station had decided to play nothing but country music...old style country music. An unending diet of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline.
"I'm so lonely I could die."
Lois groaned. This trip was going to feel like it lasted forever.
Lois stared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. The place was run down and seedy, but she'd stayed at worse places during stakeouts. If she was really the seventeen year old she looked like, she might have been more worried, but years of karate lessons and a purse filled with mace were great equalizers.
Nevertheless, she'd put a chair under the door. She was as tired as she'd ever been; exhausted. It wasn't just the hours she'd been driving. It was that the temporary high she'd been on for the past three days had begun to fade. Seeing her grandmother, hearing Clark's voice...it had broken through the fog of depression she'd been wandering around in for the past two years, almost.
In the garish, washed out light of a cracked motel mirror, those things seemed far away. She could feel the overwhelming feelings of depression returning. What did she really expect would happen when she reached Smallville?
Did she expect to show up and have Clark fall immediately to her feet, proposing marriage and children and a life together? Lois was enough of a realist to know better.
The relationship she and Clark had built before was gone now forever. They'd developed their relationship naturally, slowly developing trust. They'd become friends almost immediately, but the true depths of love had taken years to develop.
Pausing, Lois had a sudden thought. Clark had asked her out almost the first day they'd worked together. That showed that he'd probably been attracted to her from the beginning. It might be easy to attract him, but whether she'd want him as an eighteen-year-old boy...Lois didn't really know what to expect from Clark.
It seemed likely that the things that made him unique...his innate goodness, his innocence...those things would still be there.
Sighing, Lois washed her face. There wasn't any point worrying about it. She'd know what she needed to know tomorrow. Lois's sleep that night was fitful and restless.
Lois relaxed. She'd driven twelve hours yesterday, and eight more today, with more time for fuel and food and bodily necessities, but she was finally reaching the outskirts of Smallville.
She didn't really know the town. Other than the first time she'd gone with Clark, she'd been there only a handful of times to visit the Kents. She wished she'd been able to tell them about what she was planning to do...that she'd been able to tell anyone. But in the wake of the panic overtaking the planet, phone lines had been down and airports congested. Lois hadn't been able to risk not being able to get back in time to make the trip.
Whatever else happened...whether she or Clark were ever able to find anything together or not, she was going to spare Martha Kent the pain of seeing her son dead. Clark was going to live.
It was a Saturday night, and Lois could see carloads of teenagers driving up and down the main street. Lois stiffened as she stopped at a red light and a crowd of teenagers pulled up beside her.
A girl was driving, and the car was stuffed with too many teenagers. Looking distinctively uncomfortable in the back was a familiar figure.
Clark's face was thinner, less well developed than it had been when he knew her. His hair was long and shaggy, almost hippyish, and his sideburns were full. In the car filled with laughing, excited teenagers, he was an oasis of calm. He was staring out the window, ignoring the blonde attempting to put her arm around his neck.
The teenage driver floored her accelerator as the light turned green, and Lois found herself cursing as she stamped on the accelerator attempting to follow.
The VW bug wasn't able to accelerate well, and its top speed was nowhere near that of the yellow firebird. The other car sped away in a cloud of smoke, and all Lois could do was drive as quickly as she could, trying to catch up.
It was twilight, and the sky was rapidly darkening. Luckily for Lois, it was a straight country road, and the town rapidly faded away behind them. All that was left was the open road, and the sight of the distant lights ahead of her.
They were soon joined by other lights, and Lois could see the firebird turning on a dirt road leading to a house on a hill. The house was brightly lit, and as she approached, she could see that there were other cars surrounding it.
There were fires behind the house; it was obviously a party.
Lois wasn't dressed for a party; she'd been preparing herself to show up to his house with her cover story firmly in place. She'd do the interview and she what she could see. This...this was something completely different.
Still, from the looks of the few people she could see in the distance, things were fairly casual. Lois pulled up onto the grass, parking in the darkness a good twenty feet from the nearest car. She couldn't see any other cars coming down the road, so she started rifling through her bag.
It was wintertime, but there was only a slight chill in the air. Lois slipped on her favorite burgundy blouse and the leather jacket her grandmother had gotten her for Christmas. It was warm, and it looked good on her. Lois had loved it the first time, and it wasn't too bad this time around either. Leather never seemed to go completely out of style.
She checked her makeup for a moment, then slipped out of the car, nudging the door with her hip where it stubbornly refused to close. There was a trick to closing it the first time, one she'd long ago forgotten.
Walking slowly through the darkness, while trying not to stumble on wayward clumps of grass and holes in the ground, Lois made her way over to the first bonfire. The entire field behind the house was in a huge depression. In the distance Lois could make out a huge pile of gravel.
The ground turned hard, and covered with pebbles.
It was a substantial party. A quick head count showed Lois that there were more than sixty people here, not counting those moving around in the darkness that she couldn't see.
She stayed on the periphery herself, not sure how welcome she would be as a stranger, or whether she would attract the sort of attention she didn't want. She'd done too many stories about female victims to not be aware of what could happen.
Lois stiffened as she saw him, sitting at the edge of a fire.
He shouldn't have come.
No matter what the others thought, he'd never fit in with them. Their interests ran no further than Friday night football, drinking on Saturday, and working in the feed store during the week. The fact that he was in college set him apart from them in ways that none of them wanted to admit.
His secret set him apart from everyone in the world in ways he was only now admitting to himself.
For most of his life, he'd been able to wrap himself in his parents' love. It had shielded him from most of the loneliness. Whenever the pain had become too acute, he'd been able to remind himself that he was blessed with people who loved him; good people.
Leaving home hadn't been easy. Smallville was all he'd ever known, and going even as far as Wichita had seemed like a stretch. Part of him had wanted to believe that he'd always be happy on the farm, but the rest of him knew.
There was an entire world out there, waiting for him. He had a deep-seated need to know who he was; what he was.
As she slid up beside him, Clark grimaced. He'd told Lana that things were over between them, but she hadn't listened. He'd almost decided not to come when he saw her in the car along with Pete and Lisa.
Lana wasn't the one.
She had prejudices, things that led him to believe that she would never accept him if she knew who he really was.
Clark had experienced feelings toward women, of course, but somehow they'd always seemed more muted than the ones his friends talked about. He'd never felt compelled by his hormones, and at times he'd been forced to wonder if there was something wrong with him.
Part of him desperately wanted love, but his parents had taught him better than to simply spread himself around. Love, sex, it all meant something, and sharing himself that way wasn't fair to the other person if he couldn't tell them the truth.
He'd never be able to truly love anyone who didn't love all of him.
Movement caught his eye at the edge of the firelight.
A girl was staring at him. She wasn't anyone he'd seen before, but she was beautiful. Slender, with a long neck and long brunette hair. She was staring at him with a stricken look on her face.
She was beautiful.
He gasped. It was as if a world which had always been in black and white was suddenly in color.
So this was love.
Lois gasped as she caught him staring at her.
His eyes should have been blinded by the firelight, but she'd have sword that he saw her. The blonde beside him snuggled a little closer, and Lois found the sharp stab of envy. This was her time with him; the time they were meant together. Her time wasn't coming for another ten years.
She'd made a mistake coming here. Clark wouldn't be in danger for years, and if she left everything alone, he'd be certain to live to see the day. But everything she did changed things a little, increasing the chance that he might make different choices, turn left instead of right.
What if she came to work at the Planet in 1993 and he never showed up because he'd been hit by a train or something because she'd made him late with her phone call.
Lois didn't mind changing her own life. Her own life hadn't been a picnic. Most of the changes she could make were for the better. Clark on the other hand had experienced a wonderful life before meeting her. He'd traveled the world, been loved by his hometown, and had the closest thing to perfect parents she'd ever seen.
Lois began backing away into the darkness. She stumbled a little and looked down for a moment. When she looked back up, Clark was gone from his former position. She stepped backward and found herself slipping and falling onto the hard gravel.
Quick footsteps approached. Lois looked up and saw him standing there, silhouetted by the moon.
"Are you all right, miss?"
Lois closed her eyes for a moment, then accepted his hand. He pulled her up easily, and Lois's hand tingled where he'd touched her.
He didn't release her hand until several moments after he should have.
"Are you all right?"
Part of her felt as though nothing could be more right. The rest of her worried that nothing was ever going to be all right again.
The moonlight played over her features, and Clark found himself trying to memorize them. He was staring, and he knew he should look away, but he couldn't force himself to do so.
Her hand was still in his and he could feel it tingling. It brought up feelings in him that he wasn't quite prepared for. To his embarrassment, he found himself responding in a visceral, physical way. He found himself flushing. It was one humiliation that he'd never had to face, one more way that he'd been distinct and separate from the rest of the world.
Until now. Luckily, she was staring at his face with the same sort of intensity he was staring at her. There was something about the way she was looking at him, as though she was searching his face for something, or someone.
She was a stranger, and yet he already felt a weird connection between them; as though he'd known her all of his life. He knew it was crazy; she hadn't even spoken a single word to him.
When she pulled away, he felt a sense of loss. He hoped that her vision wasn't as good in the moonlight as his was; to him, she seemed to be outlined in a silver glow, lit brightly in the minimal light of a partial moon.
At least he wasn't night blind from staring into the fire. His eyes tended to adjust much more quickly than did those of an ordinary person.
"Um, thanks," she said. She had a beautiful voice.
"Have we met before?" Clark asked. That nagging sense of familiarity was bothering him.
Her face paled slightly, and she hesitated. "I don't think you've ever seen me before...unless you've been in Metropolis."
"Miss Lane?" Clark asked. He felt confused. Recognizing her voice might explain the sense of familiarity, but why was she here now?
She nodded, staring at the ground.
"How did you find me?"
She took a deep breath, straightened and said, "I'm going to be a great reporter. If I can't find the only party in a one horse town in Kansas..."
Clark found himself grinning.
The smile slipped off his face a moment later as he felt a familiar presence stumbling through the darkness behind him.
"Who is this, Clark?" Lana asked, her nasal voice seeming somehow more annoying than it had recently. She slipped her arm into his possessively.
The truth was sometimes the best lie. "This is a friend of my aunt Opal. Lois Lane, meet Lana Lang."
"Well, a friend of your aunt is always welcome around our little fire," Lana said. "Come on and join us. There's lots of cute guys here. Maybe we can set you up."
There was something grating about her voice, something that Clark would never admit to, considering what they had once meant to each other.
There'd been a time when even the limited amount of love she'd had to offer had been important to him. He'd rapidly grown tired of the hypocrisy.
Maybe it was projection; his whole life was based on a lie, and so seeing it in others repelled him. Lana's voice was friendly now, but he could feel how stiff her body was against his side. She was angry, and covering it up with a polite mask.
Lois could tell it too, he could see it in her expression.
"Sure," Lois said. "I'd be happy to join you."
Lois should have been bored. Sitting on a log surrounded by a group of kids not much more than half her age, she shouldn't have much at all in common with them. She barely remembered what it was like to be this age. When kids like this had been out drinking, she'd been in the chess club and had been sitting home memorizing maps. She'd made a lot of sacrifices in her drive to be the best, to show her father that she was more than good enough.
Somehow, though, it was fascinating watching the easy camaraderie they had between them, the in-jokes, the genuine affection.
Lana looked good with Clark, even though he seemed vaguely uncomfortable with how closely she was sitting.
She was surprised when someone handed a guitar to Clark. She hadn't realized he could play. At her look, he shrugged and said "I had to learn to play. With my voice, they wouldn't let me sing."
The others laughed good-naturedly at that. They started calling out the names of songs from Lois's childhood- songs by the Eurythmics, the Police, Elton John, the Funkmasters...and from bands Lois barely even remembered.
"Why not let the new girl pick?" Lana called out. "She probably knows all sorts of big city music we haven't heard yet."
They eyes of the group were on her, and Lois was realizing more and more just how much she hated Lana.
"How about 'Take my Breath away' by Berlin" Lois suggested quietly.
There was a sudden moment of silence, and Lois felt herself flushing. When HAD the movie Top Gun come out anyway? It wasn't until the late eighties. She closed her eyes for a moment.
"Why don't you sing it for us?" Lana said, a nasty note in her voice.
Clark stood up and stepped across the gap between them. "If you'll hum a little for me, I'll try to play it," he said.
Lois nodded mutely. She stood up, uncomfortably close to him, and hummed the song in his ear. He nodded and frowned.
Behind him, Lois could see the thunderous expression on Lana's face.
He moved back to his place, picked up the guitar and played a few chords. He made several attempts before Lois finally nodded to him.
When she was ready, she started to sing.
Her voice was like that of an angel. Clark really did find himself holding his breath, and a couple of times he had to recover at super speed when he fumbled, almost delivering discordant notes. He felt warm, and he could see that several of the other guys had the same thought.
The music wasn't anything he'd ever heard before, but it was her performance that made it work. Her voice was high and clear and perfect.
He felt Lana shift beside him, and a glance showed that she had a scowl on her face.
He hated hurting her, but perhaps it was for the best. What he'd had with Lana had been a dead end. It was fun while it lasted, but to let it continue would be simply cruel. Plus, Lana was exhausting; she was demanding, impertinent, and high-maintenance.
Lois Lane wouldn't be anything like that, Clark was sure. She seemed like the perfect girl; the sort of girl he could take home to his mother. Yet there was enough mystery that she was still intriguing.
The crowd clapped when Lois finished, and they quickly switched to group sing-alongs before Lana could say anything nasty. Clark wasn't the only one to notice her scowls.
They made her feel like a part of the group. It had been a long time since Lois had felt that way. Even in high school, she'd always felt a little separated from her friends. In college, it was even worse. After Linda had betrayed her, Lois had closed herself off. Claude's betrayal had completed it, and she'd retreated within the shell of Mad Dog Lane. She'd immersed herself in her work and allowed herself to ignore the other parts of her life.
It hadn't been until Clark had come into her life that all of it had changed. He'd managed to thaw her, inexorably, by the sheer force of his goodness. He'd stood up to her when no one else had. He'd been strong, but not overbearing.
He'd always been there for her when the times were at their worst. He'd been the first dependable man she'd ever had in her life, with the exception of her uncle- and unlike her uncle, Clark hadn't HAD to love her.
He just had.
Someone handed Lois a soda. She took a sip, and then scowled. New Coke. What a fiasco that had been. She set it down quietly, and someone brought her something a little better.
Apple cider. Now this was more what she'd expected from Smallville. Hot apple cider, rosy cheeked kids. She'd always expected Clark's hometown to be something like a Norman Rockwell painting. When she'd talked about small town secrets with Clark, it had been partially out of jealousy. In the big city, no one knew you. You had anonymity, and you were alone.
Here, everyone knew everyone else. At the best of times, it was like having one gigantic family of people who loved you.
As Lois tried to stand up, she felt a little woozy. She stared down at the small cup of cider she'd been given. Surely, someone hadn't spiked the cider. She was driving.
A whispered question to the girl next to her elicited an answer: the bathroom was in the small house at the top of the hill.
Lois stepped around several of the couples, and headed for the darkness.
She had to be very careful walking, and it took her a little time to find the small back door. Everything was dark and quiet.
Lois found the bathroom at the end of a bare hall. The house looked as though it had been abandoned, but the water was still running.
She felt relieved shortly afterwards. She washed her hands and turned off the light. Her eyes were dazzled, and the hallway seemed pitch black.
Hurrying to step outside, Lois found herself feeling slightly apprehensive. She wasn't feeling well, and she couldn't see.
As she stepped outside the house, she felt someone grab her arm.
Clark's head shot up as he heard the sound of the scuffle coming from the house. He excused himself and stepped out of the firelight before accelerating to a speed that humans could barely see.
Lois was there, and on the ground was Lana.
"You bitch!" Lana said. "Let me go!"
"I'll let you go if you calm down," Lois said calmly.
Clark stepped around the corner, as neither of them had seen him.
"What are you, some kind of psycho?" Lana asked as Lois cautiously moved away.
"You shouldn't have grabbed me when I couldn't see you," Lois said. "I have a brown belt."
Lana scrambled to her feet. "You just leave Clark alone. He's mine."
"He doesn't look like he wants to be," Lois said. "You've been sticking to him like glue all evening."
"I know what's best for him," Lana said. "He can be a little stubborn, but he'll come around."
Clark stepped around the corner and said, "We've talked about this already."
Lois felt herself flushing as Lana and Clark began to quietly argue.
Was she doing the same thing Lana was? She'd decided to drive across the country and change Clark's life, not because it was something that had to be done, but because it was something she wanted. She'd been so desperate for even a little part of him, to hear his voice, to see his face, that the consequences had become immaterial.
How much had she changed already? There were going to be questions about her song mistake in a couple of years; if not from the others, then from Clark. He had a memory like a trap. Their first meeting was already spoiled.
Lois found herself becoming increasingly woozy, and she felt as though darkness was enclosing her.
Lana stormed off, and Clark felt a sense of quiet satisfaction. Maybe she'd be able to let go. Pete had been in love with her for years, and the two of them had a lot in common.
Pete was the sort of man who could handle a high-maintenance woman.
It wasn't until he looked back at Lois that he noticed how she was swaying.
"Lois," he asked. "What's wrong?"
"Who are you, and where am I?" She stared at him with terrified eyes.
The strange sense of knowledge that had been in her eyes was gone. In its place was only a frightened young girl.
She pulled away from him as though she'd been scalded.
It hurt. It shouldn't have; he could see that she was clearly disturbed. There was something wrong here, more than just the usual case of vomiting or drunken unconsciousness you usually saw at these parties.
He could tell from the look on her face that she was still blinded from being inside the house. All she likely saw of him was a silhouette.
Before he could say anything, she stumbled backward and turned and began to run. He could hear her ragged, sobbing breath as she ran up into the impromptu parking lot.
Clark glanced behind him to make sure that no one had noticed the scene, then slipped around the other corner of the house to watch Lois.
She was wandering aimlessly through the parked cars, a key in her hand. She seemed to recognize one car, and she approached it cautiously. It was an ugly VW Bug which had seen better days.
Lois tried the key and it seemed to work.
She slipped inside the car, and Clark frowned. He wasn't certain that she should be driving in her condition.
A moment later the engine turned over, and she was spinning dirt for a moment before getting traction. A moment later the VW lurched forward at top speed- which admittedly wasn't very fast.
Clark trotted back to the party. He tapped on Pete's shoulder and said "I think Lois is feeling sick. I'm going to drive her back to town. I'll drop her car back off tomorrow."
Pete nodded, barely taking his eyes off a tearful Lana on the other side of the fire. "So I guess Lana is a free agent now..."
"She always was," Clark said. "I just didn't know it."
He slipped into the darkness again, and as soon as he was out of sight, he took to the air.
Lois was swerving somewhat on the road, and Clark frowned. She hadn't had anything to drink other than Annie's cider, which had a minimal alcohol content. Still, if she went too far he'd stop her.
Lois gasped as she woke. The sun was shining brightly and she had a massive headache. The last thing she could remember was seeing Clark and Lana fight. Now she was behind the wheel of her vehicle, which was pulled over by the side of the road.
She had no idea where she was, other than to note that it wasn't Kansas.
Unsteadily she got out of her car. She noted with dismay that she had a new dent in her fender. Whatever someone had given her last night must have been something powerful.
Lois snorted. That showed her. Getting all sentimental about small town people. They really were just as corrupt as the big town folks. But they smiled while they were stabbing you in the back.
The other explanation...that something had gone wrong with the process that had brought her consciousness into her body was too terrifying to contemplate. It was probably for the best. She wouldn't have been able to take the high road with Clark. It never would have worked. He needed time to develop, time to lose some of that naiveté that made him so appealing.
The thought of being the one to teach him some of those things had an odd appeal, but they weren't worth the risk. Clark had a good life, and he'd never made any promises to Lois. Lois would have to do her best to move on.
A thought occurred to her. The best way to ensure that Clark was alive was to make sure that by the time he came to Metropolis that Lex Luthor was already behind bars.
She'd work on saving the world too. There were some things that could do, even now that might make things work out a little better for everyone. People just had to be warned in time.
Lois had a purpose. By the time she got her second chance with Clark, he'd have long forgotten her. She'd have saved the world and stopped any chance of either of the two men in her life being killed the same way as they had before.
It took her almost an hour to realize that she was near Metropolis.
She'd been driving in a fugue state for two days.
This was more than just a spiked drink.
Lois pulled up to her father's house, only to see her sister's car in the driveway. Her sister had been better at wheedling favors and gifts; she always had.
Tiredly, she grabbed her bags and quickly checked her stash of cash. It hadn't been touched.
She turned and was startled to see Lucy behind her.
"Where have you been?" her sister demanded. "You've been gone five days. You missed New Year's Eve."
"I went on a ski trip," Lois said.
"I don't see any skis," Lucy said quickly. "And I called all of your friends. Nobody knew anything about a ski trip."
Lois waved her off tiredly. "I've had a long trip."
"You missed your interview," Lucy said.
"What?" Lois dropped her bags and turned to Lucy.
"That internship with the Daily Planet. They called to tell you that the position has already been filled, so not to bother rescheduling."
Lois gaped. She'd completely forgotten. She'd thought she already had the internship.
Scowling, she grabbed her bags and shoved her way into the house. She'd always been able to wrap Perry around her little finger. She'd get the position, if they had to open a new one up for her.
Lois stepped out of the Daily Planet with a defeated feeling. She'd forgotten how much less accommodating Perry was to someone without a track record, or a wall full of awards to her name.
She was a seventeen year old nobody without a writing credit to her name.
This was going to change everything. In the space of a week she'd derailed her entire career.
What would happen if Clark applied for the position at the Planet and she wasn't there waiting for him?
"I'd like to invest in Luthercorp," Lois said, trying to sound as professional as possible. She'd worn the suit she usually wore to funerals.
"How old are you?" The man in the suit looked bored.
"I'll be eighteen in October."
"We can't sell you anything without your parents' permission. We couldn't hold you to a contract until you were eighteen."
"Thank you," Lois said, gritting her teeth. She couldn't exactly walk up to her father and ask him to invest five or six thousand dollars of gambling money.
"I'm still not sure why you want me to go through all this." Lois's grandmother looked disconcerted. "I'm perfectly healthy."
"I'd like to keep you that way," Lois said. "Come on. You promised."
What followed was an experience of cold tile floors, metal stirrups and a doctor who knew enough to warm her hands.
When Lois had been eighteen, the whole process had been humiliating and painful. With her new experience, it was somewhat easier, though surprisingly still more painful than she was used to.
The mammogram was something else entirely.
Lois followed her grandmother who stormed out of the office.
"Those people are butchers! I'm never doing that again...I'm too old to have someone sticking my breasts into an orange juice squeezer!"
Lois listened to her grandmother rant and hoped it would be enough.
Stepping outside, Lois felt a moment of triumph. Her first paycheck! It wasn't large, certainly not by the standards she was used to, but she'd gotten published. Her name was in a paper, even if it wasn't the Planet.
Normally, she never would have considered writing for the Metropolis Star, but they accepted freelance work there, and she needed the experience. Without that internship, she was going to need an established body of work to get herself a job at the Planet.
She'd gotten it all on her own, too. There weren't many news stories she remembered from this far back. She hadn't paid as much attention before she became a reporter herself. But she had the skills, both in writing and investigating, and it made all the difference.
Lois grimaced. At least it would be better than high school. She'd already spent a week of interminable days there. The people she'd once found fascinating were children, boring, and the things they found important were at best trivial, and at worst asinine.
She was stuck as student body president. At the time, it had seemed like a stepping stone to greater things. Now, it was just one more drag on her time.
At least she'd dumped Joe Malloy. The first time he'd slapped her on the derriere, she'd punched him in the face.
She was just lucky none of the adults had seen it. It would have started raising too many questions, and might have involved a parent-teacher conference.
The last thing she wanted right now was a confrontation with her father. They were avoiding each other, and maybe that was for the best. The only other alternative would be to move out, and that would require her to get some sort of low paying job.
She absolutely refused to return to Weenie World, like she had the first time around. Wearing a giant weenie on her head had been humiliating enough before she knew better.
Lois would have expected things to be easier this time around. Instead, she was having trouble keeping her temper. Miss Pomerantz, the gym teacher, in particular irritated her.
The petty cruelties of the teenagers around her bothered her far more than they had before. At seventeen, Lois had been like the rest of the teens, so self-absorbed that although she noticed the people more popular than she was, what happened to people lower in the social order hadn't bothered her much.
Seeing that girl being assaulted in the cafeteria...Annie, Annette, whatever her name was, had been the last straw.
Her first story had been about bullying in school. She'd put a hard edge to it, and the editor of the Star had put it on the third page.
She was on her way.
Julie and Peggie and two of the other girls chatted amiably behind Lois as they walked up the drive. Despite their friendships, Lois wouldn't have bothered to have them over if it hadn't been for student council business.
She'd already had a talk from the Principal, who hadn't appreciated her article; she couldn't afford to get on his bad side. The specter of wearing a weenie hat loomed large.
The pain of not seeing Clark was fading a little, helped by the knowledge that at least he was safe and happy. She'd see him again; she had to have a little faith. If she cried to herself a little at night, it wasn't anything anyone had to know.
At least her grandmother had been proud for her. In the past three weeks, they'd gotten closer than they'd ever been. She'd been thrilled about the article, and had encouraged her to keep working. Lois had put her money into a savings account, and everything was starting to settle down.
She'd survive high school. She'd done it once, she could do it again.
Lois slowed to a stop. Her grandmother's car was in the driveway, but so was her mother's. Her mother never came to visit her father.
Lois started to pick up the pace, and the girls behind her had to hurry to catch up.
When she saw the three adults sitting around the kitchen table, she turned to the others and said, "Why don't you guys go up to my room and get started."
The girls glanced at each other, then nodded. The tension in the room was tangible.
Lois stepped into the kitchen and slowly sat down.
Her father began. "You took your grandmother to get a mammogram last week. They found something."
Lois felt her vision graying at the edges.
"Lois? Are you listening to me?"
Blinking in confusion, Lois looked up. She felt a moment of horror.
She was in her freshman dorm-room, and Linda King was sitting across from her- Linda King the traitor, the rat.
She'd lost six more months, and she didn't even know what had happened with her grandmother. Lois felt bile rising in her throat as she tried to swallow.
Being there for her grandmother had been important to her. If she'd made it, Lois wanted to have been a part of that. If she didn't...Lois had wanted to wring every last precious moment out of the time they did have together.
"What?" Lois gritted out. Linda apparently still thought they were friends. She didn't realize that Lois knew exactly what sort of woman she was.
"Midwestern is playing Metropolis tomorrow night. Are you going, or aren't you?"
Frowning, Lois wondered why Midwestern sounded so familiar.
Midwestern was a school in Wichita....the one that had given Clark a football scholarship.
"You couldn't stop me," she said.
If she wasn't going to get to say goodbye to her grandmother, at least she'd be able to see Clark again, even if only from a distance.
This didn't make sense.
Lois had been worried that her younger self might have found her savings account and rifled through it. At that age, $5000 would have seemed like an invitation for an upgraded car or a shopping spree.
Apparently, she had. But instead of a spending spree, there was too much money....far more than 17 year old Lois could have ever earned, even if she'd made good money freelancing stories. Somehow, she'd managed to add thirty thousand dollars to the account.
Uneasy, Lois looked around and carefully slipped the paper with her balance on it into her back pocket.
Teenage Lois couldn't have made this kind of money honestly. It didn't make sense; even when she was this young, Lois had known better than to risk jail time for the sake of a few dollars...or even more than a few dollars.
She put people away; she didn't commit crimes herself.
This was going to mean trouble.
If she didn't find a way to stop these periods of being submerged and unconscious, she'd wake up to find Clark dead again, and all of it would have been for nothing.
At least she remembered the name of the man who had developed the technology. She'd met him once. He was an older man, in his early sixties. Bearded, and with a bitter and defeated look, the man hadn't seemed to like anyone. John Templeton had been an irritable old coot, but from the reports, he'd been working on his theories for years, looking to get a major governmental agency to sponsor his work.
He'd been living in Metropolis for 15 years at least, so he should be somewhere she could reach.
Maybe he would have some answers as to what was happening to her.
Lois missed Jimmy. John Templeton wasn't in the phone book, and without access to any sort of internet records, she had to search for information the old-fashioned way.
The last thing she wanted to do in the afternoon before the big game was to be pouring through physics journals, hoping to find out which university or organization he was affiliated with. She'd been doing this for hours with little more than a three or four year idea of when he might have made his discovery and published his first paper on it.
Lois flipped through one more section of microfiche when the stopped. The title was right before her eyes.
"Practical Time Travel."
Most of the titles Lois had been reading for the past three hours had been nineteen words long, followed by four or five different researchers and their assistants. The simplicity of this one stunned her.
The paper that followed wasn't any better than the others though, filled with esoteric jargon and words she couldn't understand.
What she could understand was that the doctor apparently worked for a local think-tank, one that was one of the laboratories that had been assimilated to form Star Labs later in the decade. She had a company name. Finding the scientist himself would be easy. Lois could only hope that he could help her.
In the meantime, she had a ball game to go to.
Lois felt a sense of anticipation she hadn't felt for a football game since she was a teenager. Although she'd followed the games religiously, at the time it was mostly because she was competing with Linda King for the editor of the school paper.
She had a weird flash of memory of herself making bets on the telephone. It wasn't something she'd ever do, of course. One or two long shot bets could be explained away as luck. Winning every game, or even most of them would arouse suspicions.
Louie was a nice guy, sort of. The people he worked for weren't.
Grimacing, Lois tried not to think about the money hidden away in her bank account. That money was going to be hard to explain away to the IRS. Five thousand dollars could have been gifts, or summer working money. Thirty five thousand dollars was going to raise some flags.
Her younger self was an idiot. This was something that should have been apparent from the romantic choices she'd made back in the day.
The overcast skies weren't auspicious. The game could be called on account of the weather, and Lois didn't want that.
Seeing the waving hands several rows across, Lois headed for her sister and her friends. This was Lucy's first game at the college, and she was playing the big-shot with her friends.
Lucy had found them a nice spot less than halfway up the bleachers. Sitting down, Lois smiled at her sister and said, "What do you think? You think we have a chance?"
"I don't know," Lucy said. "I hear their running back is something exceptional. Kent something."
"Clark Kent," Lois corrected absently. "He's a sophomore. They say he's being scouted by the NFL."
It amazed Lois to think that she'd sat here for this same game the first time, and had never known that one of the players on the field was going to have such an impact on her life.
Lois frowned as she noticed a figure sitting nearby. She excused herself and worked her way down a few seats.
"Bobby?" Lois asked, tapping him on the shoulder. He had two hot dogs and a container of nachos in the seat beside him. "What are you doing here?"
He startled, and the hot dog went flying. "Get away from me Lois. If the wrong people see me talking to you, they'd assume I was your source."
"Source," Lois asked, feeling a little stupid. As far as she could tell, her alter ego hadn't continued her newspaper career.
"Nobody's been able to figure out how you always pick the winners, but if I was you, I'd quit doing it. If people see me talking to you, they might think Mr. Vincenti was rigging the game...which he's not, today at least. So scat, vamoose. Leave a man to his dog in peace."
Stung by his rejection, Lois returned to sit near her sister.
It wasn't long before the game started, and Lois finally appreciated Clark Kent's athletic side. He was just a little faster and more agile than the best of them, but the way he moved was poetry in motion.
The first time around she'd been busily writing own game information to impress what's his name...the one Linda had betrayed her for.
She refused to think about any of them right now. She found herself hungrily watching for times when he'd take his helmet off, and there were times she felt a thrill as he seemed to scan the seats, looking for a particular face.
Toward the end of the fourth quarter, his eyes met hers and she felt an electric jolt.
If Lois hadn't felt that she was being watched, it would have been perfect.
Lois had just reached her car when she felt a hand on her arm. She spun, trying a throw she'd learned in judo. The figure behind her didn't fly over her shoulder. It didn't move at all.
Clark had always had an unusual solidity to him.
She stepped back and stared up at him. He'd already slipped out of his uniform, and though he should have smelled of stale sweat and dirty socks, he smelled fresh and clean.
Idly, Lois wondered about the effects of 17-year-old hormones on a 28-year-old mind. He looked really good. He'd trimmed his hair, and he was already looking a little more like the Clark she'd once known.
"Aunt Opal never met you," he began. "And the way you ran out on me the last time...was it something I did?"
Lois shook her head, then leaned back against her car. "I just realized that things weren't the way I'd thought they were. Sometimes, just wanting something doesn't make it yours."
"How did you even know about me?" Clark asked. "It's not like I'm famous enough to encourage someone to come halfway across the country to meet me."
Looking up into his eyes, Lois said "What if I told you that I'd known you in another life."
"I'd say it sounded a little kooky," Clark said. He leaned against the car as well, invading her personal space a little. Lois didn't move away. "Then I'd ask what we were to each other."
"Best friends," Lois said. She hesitated, then said, "More, maybe."
They were both silent for a long moment, then Lois spoke again. "I'm not sure how long I'm going to have." Given how unstable her consciousness was now, she couldn't afford to leave him in the dark. What if her next shift took her to the day after he died. "There are some things I have to warn you about. You have to watch out for a man named..."
At that moment, Lois felt the first drop of rain hit her nose. It was quickly followed by many more; in the space of a few seconds, it was a torrential downpour.
She fumbled for her keys and jammed them in the lock, gesturing for Clark to head for the passenger's side.
She struggled with the door handle. It tended to stick, but as she rarely had passengers, it hadn't mattered much.
The door opened, and Clark slipped inside quickly. He seemed larger than usual within the small confines of the car, and Lois noted that the windshield was fogging up quickly.
"Clark," she said. There were so many things she needed to tell him...not just about what he was going to have to watch out for, but about how she felt. She felt an urge to open herself up, release all the guilt and grief and pain that had been her whole existence for so long.
She couldn't, of course. It was going to be hard enough for him to remember the things he needed to hear without listening to the ramblings of what seemed to be a love-sick school-girl.
Hesitating, Lois found herself at a loss for words. How do you tell someone that they were going to fall in love, be betrayed, and die without ever having their love returned.
"You need to watch out for Lex Luthor," Lois said.
"The millionaire?" Clark stiffened. "Why?"
"He's a billionaire," Lois said absently. "I don't think he's a threat to you yet, but he will be."
There was a flash of something in his face, of fear and uncertainty.
"You'll be ok, Clark," she said quickly, reaching out and covering his hand with hers.
It was a mistake. Lois's hands were cold, and his were warm, and she was acutely aware of the sensation of her flesh on his.
"Why would Lex Luthor know anything about me?" Clark's voice still seemed tense.
"He doesn't yet. But in the future, you'll fight over a girl..."
Clark visibly relaxed. With an explosive sigh, he grinned at her. "You had me for a minute there. You ought to take up fortune telling; people will believe anything you say."
"What? No!" Lois felt bewildered. What had she said?
"The idea that I would be competing for the sort of girl that Lex Luthor dates is flattering, but I'm just a farm boy from Kansas. The sort of women Lex Luthor would date would be way out of my league. The next thing you know, you'll be telling me that I'll be going out with a supermodel."
"No," Lois said, irritated. "Just learning ballroom dancing from a Nigerian princess."
Clark's expression froze, and he pulled away from her. "How did you know about that? Even my parents don't know."
Confused, Lois looked at Clark. "I didn't think you did that until after you started traveling the world."
"I went to England this summer. I met Amadi there. She was ten." Clark scowled. "There's no way you could know that."
Lois closed her eyes for a moment. This was all going wrong. It wasn't how she'd envisioned it.
"Who are you, and why have you been following me? Who do you work for?"
The anxiety in Clark's voice was mixed with anger. For the first time, Lois wished the darkness would come and carry her away, but it didn't.
"I don't understand why you're this suspicious, Clark," Lois said quietly. "It's not as though you have anything to hide."
Clark stiffened. How much did she know? He'd spent his entire life under the threat of surgeons' knives, of cold, clinical laboratories. His abilities were the one thing about him that was unusual, the only reason anyone would go to these lengths to track him down.
At least they were alone. The last of the headlights were already leaving the parking lot, leaving only vague hulking shapes of trucks through the pouring rain.
"Aren't you?" Clark asked. He felt a moment of terror for his parents. Had the men in government cars already come for them? "How else would you know all this?"
Lois was silent for a long period. The only sound was the rapid pattering of rain on the car. It was a thunderous sound.
"I'm from the future," Lois said. Her expression was serious, and she looked him directly in the eye.
A short, bitter laugh exploded from Clark's chest before he could stop himself. "You really think I'm a fool, don't you? "
Seeming to shrink, Lois said in a small voice, "I can't help it. It's the truth."
"Let's say it was. Why would you come back in time?" Clark wasn't sure why he wasn't just stepping out of the car and heading for home. It was obvious that she wasn't going to give him anything like a straight answer.
"Because you died." Lois closed her eyes, and there was an expression of pain. "You died and you never even knew..."
She was an excellent actress. Even as outlandish as the story was, Clark felt a moment of sympathy for her. She looked so lost, hurt.
"So where's your time machine?" Clark felt a little guilty for challenging her. He might believe that she was just delusional, that she really believed what she said except for one thing.
She knew about his time in England.
"They sent my mind back into my younger body," Lois said. "I was only supposed to go back three years, but I came a lot further."
"So you're really some withered old crone in the body of an attractive teenager." Clark smirked.
Lois gasped indignantly. "I was NOT an old crone. I was barely thirty! You little brat!"
"I'm sorry," Clark said, feeling amused. He felt himself relaxing a little. It was hard to see Lois as some sort of Mata Hari, out to pull his secrets out of him."
"You look a lot like Clark...you sound like him...but he's so much more than you. The Clark I know has traveled the world. He can order breakfast in three hundred languages. He dances like a dream, and he's got a good heart."
Lois stared fixedly out the window. "He stepped in front of a bullet for me. There hasn't been a day gone by that I don't feel sick to my stomach at the thought of who I've lost. It terrifies me to think that I've changed things enough already that you may never turn into that man."
"It's all a little hard to believe," Clark said. The sincerity in her voice was making him feel uneasy. Maybe he'd misjudged her somehow. Maybe she was a psychic, and a little crazy.
"Your mother told me once that you cried at night because of how different you were. I never understood what she meant."
"Why would my mother tell you something like that?" Clark asked, his stomach sinking.
"You were dead, and we both loved you." Lois hesitated. "We shared the same grief. I think it aged both of us."
"Let's say I believe all this," Clark said. Part of him was having a growing sense of unease. "Where did you get the time machine? Why come after me?"
Lois's lips quirked. "I'm not here for you, really. I was sent back to save the world. You're just a bonus."
She tried to say something else, but her window exploded.
Lois shrieked as her window shattered, struck by a heavy pipe. Somehow, although she was showered with shards of glass, none of them seemed to cut her.
The rain had let up slightly, and Lois could see five figures outside. Two held a third, struggling figure, and the other two were standing by her car window.
A heavy, meaty hand reached into the window and tried to grab her by the hair.
Another slimmer, younger hand grabbed it by the wrist and squeezed. Clark was reaching across from the passenger's side seat, but his angle was poor and Lois didn't see how he was going to be able to keep it up.
She bit the hand in front of her before the owner could think to hit with the pipe in his other hand.
Her attacker shouted and pulled his hand back.
The passenger side door opened, and another figure pulled Clark out of the car.
Lois felt her first moment of true fear. It could all end here. Clark could be dead, again, and it would all be her fault.
Her assailant was reaching inside again. Before he could, Lois shoved her door open with as much strength as she could muster. In this younger, weaker body, it wasn't as much. All the time she'd spend in Judo had trained her older self's muscles. These weren't as strong.
It was enough to get him to stumble backwards, and for Lois to slip out of the car.
He was already up and rushing toward her. Lois jumped back from the pipe he swung. Before he could bring it around, she kicked him as hard as she could in a vulnerable spot.
He'd been unprepared for that. Lois saw another figure coming around the corner, and she tensed for a moment, worried that Clark might already be lying on the other side of the car with his brains bashed in.
It was Clark, and he was heading straight for the two men who were holding the third figure.
Their nerve broke, and they dropped him and began to run.
Lois rushed forward and froze.
Battered and beaten on the ground was Bobbie Bigmouth, his face barely recognizable from the swelling.
He was alive. He stared up at her with one good eye. His words were strangely muffled as he said, "I told you, Lois. Just lemme eat my hot dog..."
Lois could barely look at Louie, whose rage was palpable.
"How stupid could you get? I warn you to quit betting, so you go over to the Metros to bet? What did you think was going to happen?"
There wasn't anything she could say. She couldn't claim not to have done it; obviously she had. All she could do was deal with the consequences.
"You know what has to happen now, don't you?"
Lois nodded. Now that the Metros had openly attacked Bobbie, it was just the first step in a gang war that would definitely involve casualties. People were going to die.
"You've got the boss thinking you're one of those psychics. He's been following your bets up, times ten. You wouldn't have a psychic vision of what's all going to happen with this?"
Lois shook her head. She couldn't recall having felt this miserable since the day she'd seen them fishing Clark out of the river.
"I think my days of being a psychic are over," Lois said quietly. "I'm retiring."
"You need to be careful for the next few days. They may try to get to you, at least until we make things too hot for them."
Louie glanced outside, into the waiting room. Clark still sat outside, waiting patiently.
That's all he'd done since she'd met him. He'd tried to ask her out the first day they'd met. After that, he'd waited patiently.
"Who's the mook?"
"He's the love of my life," Lois said quietly.
She'd almost lost Clark tonight, and it made her realize that the future she'd known before was gone forever. There would be no first meeting in the Daily Planet newsroom. There would be no witty banter, no getting to know each other....no long nights at stakeouts and conversations about silly things."
All that existed was right now.
Clark stood as she reentered the room, and Lois found herself moving as if in a daze.
He hugged her tightly, and she felt tears coming to her eyes. She didn't even know if Bobby was going to be ok. She didn't know if anything was. His arms around her were exactly what she needed.
One of the things that had shocked her about the Kents was how comfortable they were with touching each other. Her family had been more distant. Lois had hardly been touched at all after the age of thirteen, and she'd been shocked at how much she craved simple human contact.
She'd become more accustomed to it with Martha, but she still wasn't used to feeling this.
It felt good.
Clark spoke after a moment. "Is it safe for you to go back to your dorm?"
Lois shook her head. "They might be waiting for me. Linda should be okay. I doubt they'll do anything unless they are sure I'm there."
Clark was silent for a moment. "Aunt Opal is out of town," he said at last. "I have a key to her place."
Lois closed her eyes for a moment and nodded. Sometimes the temptation was too much to bear.
She moved through Aunt Opal's home as though she was familiar with it. Clark had been surprised when she'd avoided the squeaky step that had always given him trouble. He'd been more surprised when she'd known exactly where the guest toothbrushes were.
She'd been here before, more than once, yet Aunt Opal had never met her.
While Clark made sandwiches, Lois hadn't had to ask were any of the silverware was. She'd known every drawer and cabinet like the back of her hand.
The cat didn't know her, but Lois had known exactly how to gain his favor, pulling out his favorite dangling toy and making a quick convert.
She'd even prepared the cat food just as Opal liked it- solid food in one bowl and a special homemade concoction of Opal's pulled from the back of the refrigerator.
When they'd finished their meal, and Lois had finally stopped trembling, Clark asked the question which had been on his mind since the attack.
"What's going on, Lois?"
He knew part of it already, from listening in on her conversation with Louie.
"You wouldn't believe me." Lois focused on the cat. For some reason she'd been avoiding eye contact with him since they'd hugged.
"I said I was from the future. But it seems like the process isn't stable. I don't know from one minute to the next whether I'll be here, or whether I'll wake up and it'll be the day that I left."
Clark remembered seeing the knowledge draining out of her eyes. It had been as though someone else had been left behind.
"So what's left is...."
"The original me. Problem is, it's not like I'm jumping in time. It's more like I'm asleep...and she has flashes of my memory."
"And she's been misusing that."
"I was supposed to be in an internship with the Daily Planet by now, making straight A's and trying to date the editor of the school newspaper. Instead I'm gambling, my grades aren't doing all that well, and I shudder to think who I might be dating."
Lois looked up at him for the first time, and said "I'm screwing this all up, Clark. Everything I do seems to make things worse."
A thought occurred to him.
"How were you going to save the world, Lois?"
"There's someone else I have to find and warn, Clark. The way things are going, I might not get a chance, so you'll have to do it. In about nine years a man is going to appear...a very special man. He's going to have abilities...be able to do things nobody else in the world can do."
Clark felt a moment of premonition. "What can he do, Lois?"
"You won't believe me," Lois said, "But maybe you'll remember this conversation. He can fly, Clark. And in ten years he's going to be murdered."
"A man who can fly," Clark found himself saying numbly. He scrambled for something to say. "With a jet pack or something?"
Lois shook her head. "He can fly on his own. He's tremendously strong...I once saw him lift a space shuttle and launch it into space. He has senses that are superhuman...there are so many things he can do that the rest of us can't."
Clark couldn't speak for a moment. He felt as though the world was closing in on him and his throat felt tight. She knew...and from the way she was talking, a lot of other people knew too.
Glancing up at him sharply, Lois said "I know it's hard to believe. If someone had told me that a man would be flying around in a blue suit and red cape saving the world, I'd have thought they were ready for the loony bin."
"Considering you already said you were from the future, I doubt this is going to change my opinion of you, Lois."
But it did. Clark felt a growing conviction that Lois was telling the truth as she knew it. Something in the future was going to go terribly wrong if everyone knew about....wait.
"This flying man...what is he called?"
"Well, I named him Superman. If I don't make it, they may end up calling him something else."
Superman? That seemed a little...presumptuous.
"And you don't have an address we can find him at?"
"He just showed up out of 1993. It wasn't until later that we found out where he came from."
Clark couldn't help himself. "Where?"
"Everything I say just makes me sound more and more like a nut." Lois closed her eyes and sighed. "He's an alien from the planet Krypton. His name is Kal El, and he's my friend."
Clark found himself gaping at her, and again it felt like the air had been slammed out of his chest.
He was an alien? Mom and dad had always assumed he was some sort of science experiment. The thought that he might not even be a human being...
Lois pulled a piece of paper from out of her pocket. It seemed to be a bank statement, but the blank side had been covered with doodles.
Lois pointed to one. "If the flying doesn't clue you in, this will. He wears this on his chest."
It was the symbol that had come with his baby blanket.
Clark Kent came to a sudden realization. He was Superman, or at least he was going to be. He was going to use his abilities to help the world, and somehow, he was going to have a secret identity.
The thought of finally being able to use his abilities out in the open, without being afraid of being hunted down, or worse, having his parents hunted down and used as hostages was heady, thrilling.
"The problem is, he thinks nothing can hurt him," Lois was saying. "And for the most part he's right. Bullets, bombs, missiles, fire...he's invulnerable to all of it."
"You said he was murdered," Clark said slowly. "So I guess he has some kind of weakness."
"There's a rock, a green glowing rock that can kill him. In the future I know, Lex Luthor is going to use it to kill him."
Clark was staring at her, and his expression was unreadable.
It surprised Lois that he was still sitting here. She would have already been out the door, calling the men in the little white coats. Flying aliens, time travel...she should have just claimed to be psychic.
Still, she hadn't had a choice. At this point, there was no guarantee that one of the Metro thugs wasn't going to put a bullet in her skull tomorrow. If that happened, there was no telling what would happen to the future. Lois Lane had been at least partially responsible for what had happened to both Clark and Superman, and part of her regretted the thought that they might be better off without her. Superman had let down his guard for her sake.
Yet, it would have been only a matter of time before Lex would have felt threatened by the one person in Metropolis who had a higher vantage point than he did. Lex's ego had been huge, and his criminal wrongdoings were still being separated out by investigators, although Lois had no doubt that the courts were being closed on the final night.
If Superman was able to survive just one more year, the world might be saved. But Lois didn't want him to die.
"Let me tell you about Lex Luthor," Lois said quietly.
The whole day of her wedding had been a blur. From the moment she began to realize she was making a mistake, that she was marrying the wrong man, everything had taken on a weird sense of unreality.
She refused to marry him. That moment was thankfully clear. But Perry breaking in with the police, and Lex's subsequent actions in jumping to his death, those had been covered in a feeling of numbness.
When she and Perry had overheard the frantic cries of the police who were investigating the towers over one officer's radio, they'd forced their way downstairs to find a scene of horror.
What happened next, Lois would forever after remember only as a series of still images. A cage, glowing a sickly green. A cape, covering a lifeless form. Men trying to open the cage with crowbars.
There had been no key, and in the end they'd had to use specialized equipment to saw through the bars and get to the body. Someone had even thought to rifle through the pockets of Lex's body, a task Lois didn't envy anyone.
Lois remembered hearing a shrill, high pitched keening noise, and it was only later that she'd realized that it must have come from her.
She'd been the one to identify the body.
The funeral had been huge. In recognition of his service in the Nightfall incident, he'd been laid out in State, much like a President, or foreign King. Dignitaries from around the world had come to attend the funeral. The crowds had been vast. Every person on the planet had owed him a debt of gratitude.
He'd been superhuman not just because of his powers, but because of who he was. News reporters ran special interest stories for weeks where people talked about the impact he'd had on their lives. He'd been canonized.
And in the vastness of the crowd, there had been one blank spot, one missing element.
Clark Kent didn't come to the funeral of his best friend.
Lois had been too shell-shocked at first to be more than disappointed and hurt. But as time went on, and he didn't return any of her calls, she became frantic.
She'd broken into his house, and found everything covered in a layer of dust.
The Kents, when she called, were grief stricken. They admitted that they hadn't heard from Clark in weeks. She could hear a note of hopelessness in their voices. They believed he was dead.
She filed a missing person's report, and then for the first time since she was a child she began to pray. She prayed that she would see Clark again, that she would find a chance to tell him that she loved him, that she'd been wrong about so many things.
Lois hadn't realized how bitterly ironic fate could be. She got her chance to see Clark again. It hadn't been until Inspector Henderson showed up at her doorstep, with an expression that she didn't recognize.
He asked her to come with him, to identify someone. It wasn't until she was at the morgue that she realized what he'd meant.
The body had been in almost perfect condition. It had been left in a freezer, buried in the back of a Lexcorp meat-packing plant.
Lois still didn't want to remember what they had done to him. Lex had obviously planned to send a message. Her mind simply shied away.
It was his face...his hands. The wallet was his as well. Lois didn't recognize his clothes, but that didn't mean anything.
Nothing meant anything.
Lois couldn't remember the rest of that day, or much of what happened the next. She barely even remembered the funeral. The Kents had seemed stunned and disbelieving. It was afterwards that she started her count...listing each day that passed from the time that the life had left her life. One hundred days. Two hundred days.
She moved in with her mother. With Clark dead and the Planet gone, she just couldn't seem to find the will to get up in the morning. For three weeks she didn't get out of her pajamas, and her entire diet consisted of chocolate ice cream.
On day two hundred fourteen, the news had gone out across the globe.
Shiva was coming.
The one thing Clark couldn't understand was this business with two bodies. The rest of it made sense...too much sense. But Lois seemed as sincere in this as she did everything else.
"None of that is going to happen," he said. "The things you've changed..."
"How do I know I haven't changed it for the worse?" Lois asked, and he was horrified to see tears in her eyes. "I screwed it up the first time, and I'm doing it again."
"You won't marry this Luthor guy."
"If it's even me that's running things in 1993. How do I know it won't be her...the idiot?"
"The one person in the universe who's even more of a screw-up than I am...my seventeen year old self!" Lois grabbed her bank statement and stuffed it back into her pocket. "It's obvious that she doesn't have all my memories, or she'd BE me. But what she's been doing....I'd have thought I had more sense."
"Then I'll have to help you," Clark said. It surprised him how much he found himself believing her.
"You believe me?" Lois asked. Her lip trembled, and Clark felt something come loose inside his chest. There was moisture in her eyes.
She looked away quickly, and grabbed her cup and plate. She gathered his as well, and stood up unsteadily, heading for the kitchen.
Clark followed her. "I'm sorry about everything you've been going through."
He felt a moment of regret. He wasn't going to be able to share his secret with her, at least not yet. Even if he could trust her in the way she obviously wanted, he'd never be able to trust her seventeen-year-old self, who seemed to remember at least some things Lois knew.
All he could be for her was a friend, and hope it would be enough.
Lois set the dishes down in the sink, and stood with her eyes closed.
"I was the loneliest person I ever knew when I first met you." Lois sighed and turned to face him. "I'd spent so much time working to be the best that I'd left everybody else in my life behind. I didn't have time for friends or family or any sort of life on my own, outside work."
She took another step, and Clark stopped, confused. He wasn't sure what was going on.
He was shocked when she rushed forward and hugged him tightly.
"I'm so happy you are alive!" Lois said. Her words were muffled in his chest. "I thought I'd lost you today."
"I'm a little tougher than people think," Clark said quietly.
"You aren't tougher than a bullet! If they'd had guns instead of pipes, we'd both be dead! Then Superman would have to go up against Lex on his own. One of us has to make it, to find him."
Lois was still holding him tightly when she looked up. "I've wasted most of my life, and there's no guarantee that we'll live to the morning."
She kissed him, and for the first time in his life Clark found something as good as flying.
Clark started to pull away, and Lois blinked in confusion. From her perspective, everything had been going very well. Her lips felt swollen, her hair was tousled and they had been laying together on the couch for several minutes. Lois's hands had just started to roam when Clark started to pull back.
"Maybe we need to slow down a little," he said, his voice rough and ragged.
"We could." Lois grinned, then kissed him again. This kiss was longer and filled with promise. "But I don't want to."
He pulled away again, this time with something akin to fear in his eyes. "I think we really need to stop. You make me feel things..."
"That's sort of the whole point," Lois said, reaching for him again. He shied back, and a moment later he was standing up.
Lois felt oddly cold and bereft.
"I don't do this with girls I don't know," Clark said, looking everywhere but at her.
Lois hadn't expected to be rejected by Clark. She'd risked her life, traveled through time, gone to lengths no other person had ever gone to. The idea that he might just....not like her, was devastating.
"I'm not a girl, Clark," Lois said, trying to keep her voice steady. "And I've known you for a long time."
"But I don't know you," Clark said. "Not like I should, if we really were to do....this."
Lois hesitated, feeling hurt. "I didn't think it mattered that much to men."
"I'm not like other men, Lois." Clark sighed. "I know that everybody else seems to do this pretty casually, but..."
"It's not casual for me!" Lois protested. "There's so much I missed out on, waiting."
"As if that doesn't put pressure on me," Clark said soberly. "You've spent a long time building this up in your mind. I'd hate to disappoint you."
Lois frowned and said, "I've never been disappointed by you, Clark."
Of all the people she'd ever known, he was the one person she could say that about. He'd always been there for her, and he'd been beautiful.
Cautiously, Clark said, "You've got a lot more experience than I do."
Lois slowly sat up, smoothing down her shirt. "Age doesn't matter Clark. So I've got a few more Kerths under my belt..."
"No. I mean you are experienced..."
Lois frowned, trying to understand why he was putting so much emphasis on....Her eyes opened wide.
"You mean you've never.....?"
Clark shook his head slowly.
"Ever?" Lois felt mildly incredulous, but it wasn't as though he was thirty and still untouched. This was a wrinkle she hadn't expected.
"It's not like I haven't had opportunities," he said defensively. "It's just that...this is a big step. I know a lot of people don't think it is, but it's important to me to wait until I can find someone to trust."
"You can trust me, Clark," Lois said quietly. "We'll be good together."
"How do you know?" Clark said. "How long do I really have with you anyway? You dance into my life like this...this...beautiful thing. You make me feel things I've never felt before. And no matter what you tell me now, you can't guarantee that you won't be gone in the next minute, leaving me with a stranger."
He looked at her and said, "Do you know what it's like, having the most wonderful thing in the world dangled in front of you and never being able to reach it?"
Lois nodded. She rose to her feet slowly and approached him.
"I could have reached it," Lois said softly. "But I didn't know what I had until it was too late."
She hugged him, and he didn't push her away.
"Don't push this," he said softly. "I think that the kind of man your Clark was would have said no, too."
Lois held him for a moment and sighed. She remembered waking up in a skimpy outfit, with a headache and Clark's call of "If you really want me, I'm yours."
He'd resisted the pheromone then, because taking advantage wasn't who he was.
She couldn't blame him for being the same person now.
Lois hugged him again, tightly.
It was probably better that their first time not be on Aunt Opal's couch anyway. The thing was narrow and covered in gaudy flowers.
She was going to have to watch out. She'd forgotten what it was like to have the hormones of a seventeen year old girl.
Lois felt oddly nervous. They had the rest of the evening together, and she wasn't sure what to do. Absently she grabbed for the TV guide on the table. Aunt Opal kept stacks of TV guides piled around the corner of one wall, hundreds of them, but she'd always kept the current ones on the table.
She flipped through it.
They were still making new episodes of the Jeffersons, Alice, Dallas, The Facts of Life, Trapper John, Magnum PI, Dynasty, Simon and Simon...the Cosby Show...
Lois froze. There was something about the Cosby Show that was important. Something that had been in the newspapers...
She caught a flash of memory; they'd done a two page glossy spread, and there had been some argument in the scientific community...
That was it.
"Clark!" Lois said urgently.
He was sitting in the chair still, watching her.
"Is this right? Is today September 21st?"
Clark nodded. "It's still 1984, if that's what you wanted to know."
Lois looked frantically for the clock, then froze. There was still enough time.
"We have to get to the observatory."
"You wanted to change the world, didn't you?" Lois said. "Let's start by saving it."
Clark felt uncomfortable watching the graduate student fawning all over Lois. She'd been amazing in the way she'd talked her way into the observatory, even though it was after hours. She lied like a professional, and flirted in a way that made him feel a slow burn.
He wasn't supposed to be jealous this early.
From the way Lois kept glancing at the clock, he knew there was something she was waiting for. She tensed at one point, but it wasn't until several minutes later that the student yelled out.
"Hey! What are you doing? Don't touch that!"
"What's that?" Lois asked sweetly.
In a small black and white television monitor was a flash of light.
The student stared for a moment, then began to shake a little in excitement. He grabbed for a heavy black telephone receiver.
"That's our cue to leave," Lois said quietly. "We've just made him famous."
It started to rain again, and Lois cursed. She'd duct-taped a plastic bag to her broken window, but it snapped and blew in the wind, and it made the interior of the car too noisy to talk.
The darkness, rain, and road construction made streets that should have been familiar, strange and foreboding. It was after midnight now, and the streets were deserted.
Lois caught sight of a familiar building, and she turned toward it. It was only as it came in sight that she realized what it was. It was one of the buildings that had been burned by the Toasters in 1993. It stood here now deserted and undamaged, a testament to urban decay.
This building was on the riverfront. Lois felt uneasy. This was the home turf of the people who were trying to kill her.
She started to slow, to turn around, when she saw a set of headlights appear from behind her. They hadn't turned in from a side street. They'd simply appeared, almost as though someone was waiting for her.
She made the next turn, and drove, stepping on the accelerator.
The headlights behind her turned as well.
Lois found herself driving down streets that seemed more and more familiar. This was the neighborhood of the Metro Club. Lois found herself sweating as a second car blocked her off from turning on a side street. She felt grateful when she saw lights up ahead. The Metros were less likely to try something in front of witnesses, even if they were their own customers.
The flashing red ahead wasn't the light of police cars. It was the light of ambulances. Lois barely noticed the cars behind her turning off onto side streets as she became stuck in a small traffic jam.
It was a nightmarish scene. The front of the Metro club had collapsed, and the ambulances were taking bodies out in stretchers. Lois felt sick to her stomach, but given how efficient Louie's people were, she suspected that the war was over. The Metros had lost, and their operations were going to be assimilated into the operations of Louie's boss.
She was responsible for all of this. It was the changes she'd made, the memories she'd given to her foolish younger self that had started this chain of events in motion.
She headed back for Aunt Opal's house. She felt like nothing so much as crawling into a bed, pulling up the covers and hiding from the world.
A night of restless, guilty sleep hadn't helped anything. Lois still felt exhausted, body and soul. She'd gone over everything over and over in her mind, trying to think of something she could have done differently.
Maybe if she hadn't placed that first bet. Maybe her younger self wouldn't have discovered an unexpected gambling addiction.
What ifs were useless. If Shiva and Nightfall were discovered early enough, then maybe the government could do something even without Superman. But that would mean there would be no need to even develop time travel.
Paradoxes always made Lois's mind hurt.
Returning to her dorm-room for clothes may not have been the brightest thing to do, but Lois suspected that the remaining members of the Metros had better things to do than chase down one small-time gambler. Most of them were either changing allegiances or running for their lives.
Lois picked listlessly through her clothing selections. These were a little bit better than the clothing she'd found as a teenager, but not by much.
Her telephone rang, shattering the silence. Lois found herself jerking, startled as the full meaning brought her to panicked awareness.
Did someone know she was here? Gingerly, she picked up her telephone receiver.
The voice on the other end of the line stunned her. It was her grandmother's voice- three months after she was supposed to have been dead.
"Grandma?" Lois said quietly. "What can I do for you?"
"I just had a discussion with your father. He just told me that he hasn't been paying for my medical bills." Her grandmother hesitated then said, "Where did you get the money?"
Lois had a flash of memory. She saw herself betting on game after game, over and over again, depositing the money, and writing checks to hospitals for surgery and chemotherapy.
She'd won a lot more than thirty five thousand dollars, but most of it had been burned away by mounting medical expenses, paying for doctors and surgeons and medicines and chemotherapy.
Her younger self hadn't given up on journalism to get rich gambling. She'd practically quit school to help out her dying grandmother.
Lois felt tears rising to her eyes, and then she felt another familiar sensation as she felt herself beginning to drain away.
Her body hit the floor a moment later.
"My mother is going to love you," Clark's voice came from under the hood of the trunk.
Lois blinked in the bright sunlight and wondered where she was. And how long it had been.
"If you've never celebrated Thanksgiving in a small town you are in for a real treat." His head popped up from under the trunk. "Do you want to give me a hand with some of the bags?"
He was visibly older, but still youthful.
He stared at her for a moment, and then his lips pursed.
"Oh, it's you."
He didn't seem enthusiastic to see her.
"What's going on, Clark. What IS all this?"
Clark's face turned red and he wouldn't look her in the eyes.
"It's been three years," Clark said slowly. "Things have changed."
"I can see that," Lois said tartly. "So what have you and my body been doing while I was gone?"
"That's all she is to you...just a body to take over when you want!" Clark said. "She's a person with feelings, too. She hated having you butting into her life. There wasn't a day that she didn't dread your coming back."
"If it wasn't for me, her grandmother would be dead, she'd be broke, and she wouldn't have any friends. And you'd be dead in less than a decade. Plus, the whole end of the world thing. She's me and I'm her. This is my body."
Clark shook his head. "You aren't the same people. She's a happier person than you are."
"Try being disappointed over and over again for ten years and see how happy you are." Lois shook her head. "At the rate things are going, the next time I wake up will be to seeing the end of the world."
"Just remember whose life you are taking over," Clark said. "She's not there to walk all over."
Lois felt stung. Clark was supposed to be on HER side. "Are you sleeping together?"
Quickly, Clark shook his head. "It's never been like that with us. We're just friends."
Lois sighed. "She doesn't see you as anything more than a good guy. Well, that's the story of my life. I fall in love with a guy, and he falls in love with another girl who rejects him. Only this time, I'm my own other woman."
"You were never in love with me," Clark said. "You were in love with HIM...the guy I was going to be."
"The guy you are still going to be," Lois corrected. "Just because things have changed doesn't mean that you will."
"Well, I switched schools," Clark said "After everything that happened, I wanted to watch over Lois...er...you."
"So you changed schools?" Lois asked incredulously. "Didn't that cost an arm and a leg?"
"A recruiter from Metropolis University got me an even better deal than I had at Midwestern. Also, Lois tipped me and my family off about investing in Lexcorp and Nanosoft. Wow...those stocks are amazing."
"The Kents invested in Lexcorp?" Lois stared at Clark. "Didn't you hear a word I said about Lex Luthor? He's going to kill you."
"Not if I keep Lois away from him," Clark said. "And owning Lexcorp stock means that I get to keep a closer eye on him than I'd have a right to otherwise."
"That's...sort of what I'd planned to do," Lois admitted, slightly mollified.
"It was Lois's idea."
"It was MY Idea!" Lois said, suddenly irritated. "She just plucked it out of my mind."
Clark slammed the trunk with a little more force than necessary. "If the two of you are the same person, then it was her idea. You can't have it both ways."
"I'm Lois Lane. I can have it any way I want." Lois suddenly grinned. "Whether it's reasonable or not."
Clark shook his head, and then said, "We'd better get a move on..."
"I need to see a doctor," Lois said. "The man who invented time travel is right here in Metropolis, and I need to talk to him so that I can stop all this jumping around."
"So that you can take over Lois's body permanently!" Clark protested.
"This is my body, too." Lois scowled. "What do you think is going to happen in 1996 when there is no more of your girlfriend left and I take over."
"Maybe you won't," Clark said. "Maybe you'll just become her."
Lois shook her head. "That's not how it works. Otherwise, every time I changed something, I'd have a whole new set of memories. I'd already be on my way to being a whole new person."
"I can't let you do this," Clark said.
"Can you watch me twenty four hours a day?" Lois asked. "That's what it'll take. And even if you could, all I'd have to do is call the cops and then get away while they were asking questions. You might as well let me go."
Clark closed his eyes for a moment, as though he was pained. He nodded after a moment.
Lois left him standing there, a slight moistness in her eyes the only sign that her heart was breaking.
Pounding on the door, Lois hoped the man wasn't in an alcoholic stupor already. When she'd met him the first time, he was a man in his late fifties, even though he'd looked at least ten years older, with a long, unkempt, scraggily beard.
He'd been bitter and sarcastic then. She could only hope that his disposition had soured with time, leaving his younger self more cooperative and less crotchety.
The door was pulled open violently, and Lois stared for a moment. He looked much younger, with a carefully trimmed brown beard and short, combed hair. He was no longer disheveled.
"What are YOU doing here?" He stared at her for a moment than seemed to catch himself. "I told you I don't want anything you have to offer."
"Mr. Templeton, my name is Lois Lane. I'd like to talk to you about time travel."
He paled for a moment, then seemed to regain his composure. He stepped aside, and said, "Come on in."
She followed him inside into the darkness.
"I saw your book on time travel," Lois said.
"Did you read it, or just look at the pretty pictures?" He didn't look at her as he stepped into a sunken living room. The design of the place was odd, all blacks and whites and stark colors. Lois would have called it ultra modernist if she'd had to find a word to describe it.
"It went right over my head," Lois said. "It was a pretty technical book."
"It's my life's work," he said. "You don't exactly get to be a scientist working off Cliff's notes."
He gestured for her to sit down.
"Do you really think it's possible for people to travel in time?"
"This is the second time you've asked me that," he said. "I'd have thought you'd know the answer by now."
"When did I come around before?"
"A year ago. I told you then that there wasn't anything I could do about the periods of memory loss without access to the other personality."
Lois felt a moment of horror and shock. Her other self had tried to get rid of HER.
"And if you had access to that other personality?"
"Assuming you aren't just deranged?" he asked. "There are things I can do to make this memory shifting go away."
"What if I said I was from the future right now," Lois said. "And I wanted to make sure that I stay here this time instead of going away again?"
"Instead of the original one?" The man smirked. "That'd be ironic. I like it! The first girl was an annoying twit. It'd serve her right to be completely subsumed."
"So you just believe me?" Lois had an uneasy feeling that she was making a mistake. There was something about his expression that was setting off warning bells inside her head.
"I invent time travel and then don't expect to meet time travelers? What do you take me for, a modest man?"
"So you'll help me?"
"Well, it occurs to me that you might be the same person I saw a year ago, trying to trick me into sending your other self into oblivion. That person seemed a bit untrustworthy."
Lois flushed but didn't say anything.
"It won't work if you aren't who you say you are," he said, thinking for a moment. He reached into a pocket and pulled something out. "If you can tell me what this is, I'll help you."
He dropped it in her hand. It was a large, old fashioned key. It was smeared with something green and glowing.
Lois gasped and stepped away,. Before she could react he had a gun in his hand and he laughed. "It really IS you!"
"Mr. Templeton...John...there's no reason to..."
"Call me by my real name," he said. "Tempus."
He stood expectantly, as though waiting for a reaction from her.
"Who?" she asked.
"Oh right...the version of you who knew me by that name is gone forever." Tempus grinned. "I erased her with that."
He nodded in the direction of the key, which was still in Lois's hand. She dropped the key onto the carpet and stared down at it in revulsion.
"What did you do?"
"I'm sure you've got a pretty good idea." Tempus grinned. "I picked up a time machine a while back, a real one. I got it cheap...it was practically a steal."
"So you came back in your own body...why?"
Tempus laughed. "That old technology? Why would I ever do anything as stupid as scatter my atoms all across the cosmos just to relive a few paltry years? No. I had a real time machine, with seats and levers...the whole package."
"So you just bought a time machine? At Radio Shack?"
"Well, they didn't exactly sell it to me. They had it up on display at a museum. They didn't even realize that it was one of Herb's working models. Like I said, it was a steal."
Lois began edging around the small end table behind her. She felt around for something she could use, but the table was austerely clean and neat.
"Let's not try anything stupid, Lois," he said. "I've had the last several years to practice my aim, and I'd like to think I was pretty good. Still, I'd hate to be aiming for a shoulder and accidentally hit you in the eye."
"You killed Superman," Lois said. "Why? Why would you do something like that?"
"I've had this conversation with you before Lois...Nine thousand channels and nothing on...Utopia...any of it ring a bell?"
Lois shook her head.
"Well, I guess maybe erasing your future had some downsides. I find going through all of it again to be so boring."
He gestured with the gun for Lois to sit down on the couch.
"In the original timeline, he managed to escape on his own. Used his cape to grab the key, which was left in plain sight. But I changed everything, and it was so easy...Of all the places in his life, this was the easiest place to change it all. No big schemes or elaborate traps. No sticking my neck out...All I had to do was pick up a key and wave it at him. The irony appealed to me. Killed by his own biography, written by Lois Lane."
Lois felt sick to her stomach. She could imagine Superman's uncomprehending anguish.
"He begged for his life, you know. He was on his knees and he begged," Tempus smirked. "He wasn't even afraid for himself. He said something about love, and well, after that I stopped listening. Taunted him a little more, but listening...well, I was on a schedule."
"What about Clark?" she asked. "Did you have something to do with that, too?"
His expression went slack for a moment, and then she saw something she didn't like in his eyes. He burst into joyous laughter and said "Oh God! You mean I get to do this all over again?"
"This part never gets old," he said, snickering. "You really are galactically stupid, you know."
He pulled a pair of reading glasses from his pocket and slipped them on.
"Let's go through this again. Hi, I'm Clark Kent, roving, meddling reporter."
He pulled them off. "I'm Superman, meddling superhero."
Slipping them on he said, "Clark Kent."
Pulling them off he said, "Superman."
Looking her straight in the eye he grinned and said "Is any of this getting through Lois? D'uh! Clark Kent is Superman!"
"But there were two bodies!" Lois protested. "I saw them both."
"There was a man in Metropolis who made his living by dressing up as Superman. I can't remember his name- he was a petty, inconsequential man. However, as an impersonator, he was great. The resemblance was uncanny. So a simple telephone call saying I'd spotted Mr. Kent...and after they were done, dropping the wallet I'd taken from his apartment into his pocket...very easy."
"Why would you do that?"
"Well, as agonizing as the cage was, the things they did to that actor were far worse. I thought it might be fun to make you go through the whole thing twice."
"So you did it all to make me suffer?"
"I'm about to make you suffer more," Tempus said. "Remember how you were asking me about getting control of that body? Why don't we just snuff you out instead and give it back to its rightful owner?"
Lois closed her eyes for a moment and felt very alone.
The revelation about Clark was stunning, but Lois had to put it on the backburner. She had to keep him talking while she worked out some sort of plan.
"I don't understand why you would come all the way back here if you were mainly interested in changing the future."
"I miscalculated a little," Tempus admitted. "After taking the key, watching the most entertaining bit of torture I ever saw, and slipping Clark's wallet into the dead man's pocket, I decided to head home and see if things were a little more to my liking. The great thing about time travel is that it makes you almost like a god. You can change entire worlds and force them to your will."
Tempus tossed a pair of handcuffs to her. "Lock yourself to that," he said, gesturing toward a set of stairs through a hallway at the back of the room.
Lois wondered if she was more disturbed by the velvet linings on the inside of the cuffs, or by the look in Tempus's eye.
She allowed herself to be lead into the hallway, where she locked the cuff around her left hand. She looked for the flimsiest looking of the support posts and reluctantly locked it around the thinnest part of the post.
"I hadn't realized that he hadn't already dealt with Nightfall," Tempus said as he headed into a small storage room.
Lois could hear the sounds of banging as he rifled through what sounded like boxes of tools and equipment.
She began tugging at the support post, pushing with her feet. It budged, but only slightly.
"I was heading home, when Metropolis suddenly ended up underwater." Tempus's voice was muffled. "The ship I was in wasn't exactly a submarine, and even with everything being slightly out of phase, I started to sink. I hit reverse, but everything was already shorting out. The ship shook itself apart, and I ended up with a concussion in a hospital in Hell's kitchen."
"It wasn't Nightfall," Lois said. Whatever he was doing, she needed to slow him down.
"What?" Tempus asked, popping his head around the door. "Not Nightfall? What was it then?"
"Shiva," Lois said.
"The Hindu god of destruction?"
"This year, there was a collision in the asteroid belt. A planetoid was split into two parts and its orbit changed. One part is due to make nine more revolutions before it hits the earth. The other is due to hit in twelve more revolutions. The second one was twice the size of Nightfall."
Tempus whistled. "They never wrote anything about a second rock in the histories."
"The government planned to contact Superman quietly and have him change the meteor's orbit a little on one of its earlier revolutions. No panicking the population."
Closing his eyes, Tempus sighed. "And the fact that you're here suggests that they built my machine."
"All twelve billion dollars of it," Lois said. "They hoped I'd come back and fix things."
Tempus grimaced. "I'd planned trying to stop myself. I suppose I wasn't successful this time around. Oh well."
He slipped back into the storage room. Lois heard the sound of a drill.
She frantically searched through her pockets. At this time in her life, Lois hadn't known how to pick locks, so she wouldn't have been in the habit of carrying lock picks.
She did find a toothpick in her right pocket. Lois pulled it out and frantically attempted to pick the lock of her cuff.
The end of the toothpick frayed, and Lois reversed it, using the undamaged end.
"So why invent this kind of time travel?" Lois asked. "Why not build a real time machine, like your first one?"
"I never learned how to build those," Tempus's voice was sharp. "In the precious Utopia you and Kent created, there aren't many people who know much about technology."
"I grew up in the twenty second century. I went forward a few hundred years and found just more and more peace and prosperity. They did invent some interesting teaching methods...loading information directly into the brain. In the twenty ninth they developed some really interesting time travel technology. I downloaded as much historical information as I could, including a classified project from 1999."
"The time travel I used," Lois said.
"It declassified because no one could built something like that without so many resources that no one worried about it."
"So, why?" Lois asked again. "Why this kind of time travel?"
"Did you ever wonder what a civilization that had time travel would use it for?" Tempus asked.
"Every major historical figure gets a team of observers, historians and scientists attached to them. If I managed to invent time travel, then..."
"You'd be famous and they'd send people to watch you."
"I was going to steal their time travel equipment, and then I'd be free again. Instead, I'm still stuck on this ball of rock."
"Because you wiped out the future. There's nobody left to send anyone back."
"Well, forewarned is forearmed I always say," Tempus said. "Obviously I need the Man of Steel if I'm going to have anywhere to go back to. It occurs to me that the best way to make that happen would be to get rid of the bone he and Lex were fighting over. My guess is that you've already enlisted Clark Kent's help. He'll know about Lex Luthor and he'll be fine."
Lex returned, pulling a barrel-like machine made from the cylinder of a washing machine. It was obviously home built, as it had wires and pieces from telephones and radios attached.
"You'd be surprised how much you can learn from twenty ninth century sleep-teaching techniques."
He bent down and plugged it in.
Lois screamed as loudly as she could. "Clarrrrrk!!!! Hellp!" even as the lock on her wrist finally came down.
Tempus didn't bother to respond. He just finished plugging the machine in.
The blast of the machine was a white light, blinding. The pain made that of her first disincorporealization pale by comparison. The pain lasted only a moment, however, and then Lois found herself floating in blackness. She could dimly feel herself being slowly shredded, her mind pulling apart like warm taffy.
She felt a moment of hopelessness, then acceptance. At least she'd saved Clark. It took her a moment to realize that he was Superman as well. She'd saved the whole world- her father, Lucy, the Kents, Perry. All in all, it was a fair sacrifice.
It was only then that she felt the touch of the other mind. It was a very familiar mind, and it took a moment for Lois to realize it was her other self. Tempus had lied. Her younger self's mind was pulling apart just as surely as she was. The device would kill the both of them.
Her other self made a wordless off and Lois hesitated for a moment. She valued her individuality, but it appeared that the only way they were going to survive was by working together. The damage to each of them was too extensive for either to survive on their own.
Hesitantly she reached out, touching the other.
A moment later there was the shock of contact. Fusion. What had been two became one.
Their memories before Christmas were the same, but now Lois regained those memories of the time she'd been unconscious. Memories of her younger self being driven by impulses she didn't understand, of her new found devotion to her grandmother. Memories of the bets she'd made and of the secret accounts even Lois hadn't found.
She felt the depression, which had been at the back of her mind, blow away like an odor on a breezy spring day. The optimism of her younger self, uncontaminated by years of disappointment, made her feel as though she could accomplish anything.
The time she and Clark had spent together was there was well. They'd had a relationship that had been punctuated by mistrust on Lois's part. But he'd slowly won her trust, and within time they'd become friends. Clark was now the best friend she'd ever had.
Her younger self had loved Clark, Lois now realized, but hadn't had the words to say it. Unlike Lois, her younger self had never had sex, and her relationships with boys was even more circumscribed than even Lois's had been.
She'd already avoided three relationships that had ended in utter failure and humiliation for Lois.
Her younger self, in contrast, was learning the hard earned professional skills Lois had honed through years of experience. She was learning the self-confidence that came with being the best at what you do. She was learning what it meant to be in love with Clark Kent from a more mature perspective.
A moment later, it was complete. They were both one being, and their hesitation was no more.
Lois opened her eyes. Tempus was still in the same position he'd been before. The transformation couldn't have taken any time at all.
Despite the blinding light, Lois stood. The light wasn't affecting her now.
Before Tempus could react, Lois lashed out with one foot, kicking the device on its side. It remained on, and its light hit Tempus. His face froze in horror, and then began to sag.
Lois heard the sound of a sonic boom from behind her, and the front wall of the apartment disintegrated, sending splinters flying through the apartment, although none of them hit Lois.
She looked up at Clark, who looked stunned and slightly frazzled.
"Lois?" he asked hesitantly.
"We are here," Lois said. She could feel the last remnants of her personalities beginning to merge.
Lois glanced back at Tempus, who was convulsing. Clark moved forward to pull him out of the light, and Lois grabbed his arm. She shook her head and moved forward herself to unplug the device.
His convulsions ceased, but there was no light in his eyes. He lay staring at the ceiling.
Lois felt a moment of pity for him until she noticed the key in the middle of the floor.
Clark was beginning to look sick and nauseous.
The trace of kryptonite on the key must be affecting him already.
"We need to get out of here," Lois said. "The neighbors will already be calling the cops. Do you think we can get out the back way?"
Clark glanced up, and then he had a look of panic. "I can't...Lois...um."
Lois grabbed him by the arm and pulled him toward the back door. She could hear sirens already in the distance. Some of the patrol cars must have been near enough to hear the explosion.
"You need to get out, Clark," Lois said.
"What about you?"
"My car is in the driveway. If I run, I have a lot of explaining to do. I've still got a freelance job with the Star, and I'm going to claim to be working on a story."
Clark nodded. Lois pushed him toward the back door, away from the kryptonite. As he was about to leave, Lois grabbed him and kissed him hard.
She then shoved him and said, "We're going to have a little talk about you keeping secrets from me later."
He blanched, then set out across the open backyard.
Lois returned to the living room, and waited for the police.
The grilling had been brutal, but the police had finally bought her explanation that somehow professor Templeton's device had caused some sort of implosion and accidentally rendered him a vegetable.
Everything was different now. In the back of her mind, the adult Lois had been looking at Clark as something of a child. She'd been attracted to him, wanted him, but part of her had been having trouble accepting him as an adult.
Now, with three years of memories behind her, memories of seeing Clark as a respected contemporary, memories of having the relationship with him that she'd been cheated out of the first time, Lois couldn't help but see him as an adult.
He'd already been graduated a year and had been traveling the world. She was ready to graduate soon.
The world was their oyster and nothing was ever going to be the same.
Lois wouldn't have it any other way.
"Mating habits of the knob-tailed Gecko?" Perry shook his head. "Son, you can't come into the greatest newspaper on the planet with this kind of story and expect to be taken seriously."
Clark Kent was a tall man, and there was something about his confidence that Perry liked. It took a lot of guts to show up with a Gecko story and still look confident. Still, he didn't really have a job opening.
"I'm just going to have to..."
The door suddenly swung open and a woman in khaki shorts and a khaki shirt walked in. She was tanned, and her skin was practically glowing.
"He didn't start with the Gecko story, did he?" the woman asked.
"What in the Sam Hill is going..."
He froze as the woman introduced herself. "Lois Lane-Kent." She offered her hand and he took it.
"You folks are Lane-Kent and Kent?"
Lois nodded, a hint of a smirk on her face.
The Kents were world renowned. They'd written about every major conflict over the past ten years or so, traveling into war zones to get stories that other journalists either couldn't or wouldn't. They'd won their first Pulitzer last year with that story on the Congo. Rumor had it that they were in the running for another one.
They had a reputation for having an uncanny sense of where the big story was, and for being there almost as it happened.
What they were most famous for, however, was getting the exclusive on Superman after he'd appeared last year. The military had attempted to push Nightfall out of its orbit and had ended up sending it spiraling toward the planet instead.
"I'm flattered that such a distinguished pair of reporters would come looking for a job at the Planet, but I don't know how I could possibly afford you."
Lois Lane waved his objection away. "We don't do this for the money. Between the travel guides we've written and some really good investments, we don't actually have to work at all."
She grabbed a sheet of paper from Perry's desk and wrote a number down. Perry was astonished, both because the amount was almost exactly the most he could afford for them and because she'd asked for her salary to be ten percent more than her husband's.
Clark had a long suffering look.
Perry slowly sat down. "Well, let's talk turkey."
"Elvis always said it was better to talk fried bananas," Lois said. "But we'll talk turkey if you'd like."
Perry leaned forward. He was really going to like this woman.
"Did you know I originally tried to get an internship here?" Lois said sweetly. "I missed a deadline by a day or two."
Like might be too strong a word.
The view was spectacular. It was ironic that they were staying in the Lexor hotel. It wasn't the honeymoon suite that Lois remembered from so long ago. It was a pricier room with a spectacular view of the city.
Metropolis glowed like a shining jewel before them.
Traveling the world had been an experience Lois would never forget, but her heart would always belong to Metropolis.
It was god to be home.
"We got the job, Grandma!" Lois said, holding the telephone to her ear as she tried to open the bottle of wine. Clark was in Shanghai, getting food from that little place they both loved so much.
The cork finally released and Lois poured into the twin wine glasses.
She lit a pair of candles, and a moment later she felt the wind of her husband's approach.
"Clark is here, I've got to go."
Her grandmother had become frailer with each passing year, but Lois had treasured the nine additional years they'd had together.
By the time she turned, the meal was already out on the plates, the boxes and bags hidden away where possible.
Lois opened the fortune and grinned. "Apparently a horse in the barn is worth two in the field."
Clark answered in Mandarin. "And a wife of my heart is worth all the horses in the world."
"Well, I certainly eat a lot less," Lois said in the same language. She wasn't fluent, not like Clark, but she could make her way around Shanghai without getting lost.
Clark turned and looked out over the view. "It really is beautiful. Do you regret staying away for so long?"
"There's not a single thing that I regret in my life with you," Lois said. "I've gotten an extra nine years with you, time that I never should have gotten. Whatever happens, I've been blessed."
"So you don't mind holding on to the Luthorcorp stock?"
"It's a stupid idea, Clark. Do you know how much money we'd lose...?"
"We don't need any more money," Clark said, kissing her on the neck. "And I couldn't live with selling it off to unsuspecting investors."
Lois grumbled a little and then acquiesced. She hated it that Clark was always able to get her to do what she wanted with a few kisses to the nape of her neck.
Of course, she had her own strategies, and she had to admit that she'd always been the more successful at getting what she wanted.
"Well, we'll take Lex down," Lois said.
And this time, he wouldn't have any kryptonite to make a cage or anything else. Lois, Martha and Jonathan had snuck out of the farmhouse one night, used a truck and a winch to pull up a tree, and before Wayne Irig knew it, his field was clean.
Lois slowly pulled away, and said, "We'd better eat."
They sat down to their meal, warmed all over again by Clark with a single glance.
"So, we only have one more year, and then the future is finally a mystery again."
"I'm looking forward to getting on with our lives," Lois admitted. "It'll be good to be really surprised again."
Clark smiled at her, and then said, "Speaking of surprises..."
The gift inside the box he handed her was inconsequential. His greatest gift was their lives together.
Life was good, Lois thought contentedly. Life was good.
"Happy anniversary, Lois."
The knocking at the door came as an unpleasant surprise. Things had been progressing along promising paths, and Lois's mouth was feeling swollen. She was already disheveled.
"Who is it?" she asked Clark sharply.
He stared at the door, and then said, "I don't know, but he'd dressed strangely."
Lois stiffened. She quickly pulled her clothes back on while Clark headed for the door.
"I say, old fellow. Are you Clark Kent?"
Clark murmured a response. The man replied, saying, "My name is Herbert George Wells, and I've come here in my time machine."
Lois stared at the intruder, her heart in her throat. What if he intended to change it all, erase their time together?
"How can we help you, Mr. Wells?" she said finally.
"Well, my machine runs on gold. I've traveled forwards in time and saw some marvelous things. I even brought someone back with me. Unfortunately, I didn't calculate how much the extra weight would add to the fuel problem."
"What do you need?" Lois asked.
"Well, I need gold. I know it's hard to believe, but..."
"Where is your companion now?"
"Mr. Tempus is watching the time machine. He seems like a nice young fellow."
H.G. Wells was left alone in the room a moment later, wondering where the couple had gone.
Time travel and superheroes, he mused. You never knew what to expect.