Summary: It could be that Perry has said, "Great shades of Elvis!" one time too many, because Elvis has taken to conversing with Perry when no one else is around. Before Perry goes completely around the bend, Lois and Clark must tear themselves away from their cozy new relationship to investigate. Who would want to drive Perry insane, and why? Or has the King just gotten lonesome since he died? A story that picks up where the fanfic "Wheels of Justice" leaves off.
I have to preface this story by saying it takes up where Wheels of Justice left off. I'm hung up on doing a story arc where all stories stand by themselves, but can be read together as a continuing story. This spares me from writing a novel, and spares you from having to read one<g> Also I want to credit the old Adventures of Superman with part of this story. An element of this story owes a great deal to an episode titled Great Caesar's Ghost written by Jackson Gillis. One last thing. I started this story about a year ago, but due to too much time on the IRC, the show morphing rapidly, and just plain laziness on my part, it took me forever to finish. You'll also note that since this story arc was started way before Lois and Clark even had their first date, my story goes off in a different direction from the series. Big thanks to Lynda (Rxiris) for doing an amazing and insightful job of editing this monster for me.
Jimmy trotted behind Lois' jeep as it slowed to a stop in front of the Daily Planet building. He walked to the passenger window and raised his fist to tap on the glass, but he froze in mid-motion. His lips parted as if to speak, but it was apparent the words had lost their way somewhere between his vocal chords and his tongue.
Clark and Lois were engaged in a rather amorous kiss, and though this had become a commonplace activity for the twenty-something reporting team over the past two days, it was news to everyone else acquainted with them. Jimmy had attended the charity ball where Lois and Clark had finally decided that the only way to preserve their friendship was to wager it on something riskier, but infinitely more satisfying--- they had decided to give love a try. Had Jimmy lingered a moment or two longer at the charity ball, he would have seen the historic embrace which had launched the romance. However, feeling stifled by the formal attire required, Jimmy had left the instant his camera had run dry of film and thus missed what Perry White would have called a defining moment in history.
Clark, via his super hearing, became mindful of heavy, labored breathing. Noting that it issued neither from himself nor Lois, he reluctantly halted the kiss. He liked parting from her lips slowly and would be embarrassed to admit that part of the reason for this was because of the sound effect which accompanied such a slow separation. The sound was something akin to a bicycle tire coming to a slow stop on a gravel driveway. Clark peered around Lois' head and spotted Jimmy, who, with his fist still frozen, looked to Clark like an idle slot machine. Jimmy's coin slot was still gaping with astonishment.
Clark waved sheepishly at the young photographer. Jimmy began to blink rapidly as if Clark's simple hand gesture had been some potent form of legerdemain. Lois exited the passenger door and smiled. "Picking up extra money as a car parking valet, Jimmy?"
"Huh?" he asked numbly.
Clark made his way around the jeep and placed his arm around Lois' shoulder. "I think Jimmy still hasn't gotten over our front seat osculation."
Jimmy shook his head vigorously. "I swear all I saw was kissing!"
Lois laughed and patted Jimmy's shoulder. "I believe you, Jimmy."
"I don't blame you for keeping the romance a secret."
"Because I sure found out the hard way about the Daily Planet's policy against office romances."
Lois shot a worried glance at Clark. He adjusted his glasses nervously. "A no romance policy? Is that why we don't see you with Lisa from accounting anymore?"
"No," he sighed, and leaned against the jeep. "She may have looked like a dream, but everything else about her was a nightmare."
Lois folded her arms and leaned against Clark's chest. "You didn't like her personality."
"I don't know. I never found one."
Clark glanced at the younger man reprovingly. "Jimmy--"
"It's the truth, C.K! She was a total fish." He shook his head. "I invited her out to dinner so I borrowed my mom's Buick," he laughed and kicked the curb with the toe of his boot. "I couldn't very well take her to Teto's on my motorcycle."
"What about your Mustang?" Clark asked, but seemed much more intent on nuzzling Lois' ear.
"The engine blew out. Never buy a classic car, C.K. You can only get them at a cheap price when they're a pile of junk, and then it takes forever to fix them up a little at a time," Jimmy sighed. "Especially on my slave wages."
"Ooh, Teto's," Lois changed the subject, and playfully pushed Clark's face away. "That's pretty expensive, Jimmy."
"Tell me about it! Anyway, I pick her up and tell her she looks great, and she makes this tragic face and says, 'I look awful' and then I tell her she looks fantastic and she says, 'How can you say that when my hair looks completely gross?' Well," he sighed again. "I could see this dumb conversation going back and forth all night so I just said we'd better hurry because we had eight o'clock reservations. The first thing she did when she got in the car was pull down the mirror and start messing with herself, and then she started up on how awful her hair was again."
"Maybe she was just nervous, Jimmy," Clark suggested. "She wanted to look perfect for your date."
"Believe me, C.K., I thought the same thing too and was kind of flattered by it, so I just put the hair thing off to nerves, but when we got to the restaurant, she took one look and made this kind of smile that really isn't a smile and said, 'I've heard about this place. Sort of a gauche knockoff of its Italian namesake'."
Clark drew his mouth down into what Jimmy generally recognized as Clark's 'oops' grimace. "Uh, oh."
"You bet 'uh oh'!" Jimmy countered angrily. "We walk inside and as we're being led to our table, we can hear people talking about how great she looks, and wondering if she's a model and looking like she stepped off the pages of YM and so on."
Lois smiled, "I'll bet she soaked it all in like a sponge."
"Probably," he sniffed. "At least you're zeroing in on her personality."
Clark covered his mouth.
"Dinner seemed to go on forever! If she wasn't talking about her hair, she was talking about her weight, and when she wasn't talking about either of those things she was talking about how her mom seriously needed to get a life." Jimmy tipped his head back and closed his eyes. "I don't know what she talked about after that, because I shut her out. I wasn't hearing her, or seeing her. I wanted to be anywhere else with anyone else! I imagined being on the banks of Wolf canal pitching rocks at the spillway with my friend Doug," Jimmy smiled. "We'd just be there with a bag of burgers, laughing and joking, and talking about everything." Jimmy's eyes opened. "Everything except hair, weight and mothers!"
"Wolf canal," Lois said, her tone a bit distant. "When I was twelve and my folks were splitting up, I'd take Lucy to Wolf canal to go crabbing when things got nasty."
"There's crabs in the canal?"
"Sure," Lois laughed. "Me and Luce used to sit on the rusty old culvert all afternoon and catch buckets of crabs. Of course we'd throw 'em all back. I didn't know how to fish, so crabbing was a lot easier. Just tie a string to a chicken leg, and 'viola', you're crabbing." Her eyes became dreamy. "I loved the sunset there. The water would turn orange and then pink, and then completely disappear in the darkness. Everything was so still and quiet. All you could hear was the spillway, and then after a while the frogs and crickets. I never wanted to go home." Lois suddenly awakened from her reverie and looked embarrassed. She turned to Clark with a change of expression and a change of subject. "I guess we'd better play this cautious for a while. I'll go in first and then you come in after about five minutes."
"Okay," Clark replied, and kissed her softly. "But it'll be hard to remember to keep my hands to myself."
Lois patted his chest. "Will power, Kent, will power," she laughed and headed towards the entrance.
Jimmy watched her thoughtfully. "I can see why you love her."
"Hmm?" Clark said absently, his attention fixed on Lois' generously long and shapely legs.
"She's like Doug."
Clark's attention refocused. "I beg your pardon?"
"You know what I mean, C.K.. You don't just love her, you like her. I mean a woman that likes to go crabbing at Wolf canal, knows martial arts, has more guts than most guys I know, not to mention she's incredibly hot…good looking. With all that going for her, it's a miracle you were able to steal her away from Super--" Jimmy cleared his throat. "So, you really like her?"
"Yeah," Clark smiled. "I like her, Jimmy. I like her a lot. I can promise you I've told her things I'd never tell anyone else. I guess the friendship made the love part easy." Clark put his hands in his pockets. "She…knows me."
"Yeah, I guess I never really tried to know Lisa. I was just blown away by her looks."
"Well," Clark smiled, "That doesn't have to go away. Lois still blows me away with her looks."
Jimmy scratched the back of his head. "It's confusing, C.K. I mean how were you able to--" Jimmy tried to think of a delicate way to ask his question. "Shift out of hormone and into friendship gear with Lois?"
Clark, with great restraint, managed not to laugh. "I think with Lois, I'll always be in hormone gear, Jimmy. But I reached a point where I started wanting to share my life with someone, and that meant getting to know Lois and not just being attracted to her."
"Yeah, but how did you know it would be her? I mean what was it, did you get a sign, or was it just a lucky guess, or--?"
"Jimmy," Clark sighed, "All I know is, she woke something up inside of me, and I knew she was the one I wanted to share my life with. I just…knew. Besides," Clark shrugged, "I don't think you're quite at the point where you want to make a lifetime commitment to someone, are you?"
Jimmy raised his arms. "No way!"
"Then don't worry about--"
Jimmy cringed. "Yes, chief?"
"I don't remember receiving a memo this morning telling me to search hell's half acre for James Bartholomew Olsen!"
"Sorry, chief, I was just talking to C.K. about--"
"Wait in my office. I have an assignment for you if you could possibly squeeze me into your busy schedule."
"I'm there, Chief," he replied, and ran toward the Planet.
"Kent, were you or were you not at that press conference this morning?"
"Sure, Perry, I--"
"Then why the devil is Lois in there working on it by herself?"
"I was just about to go--"
"It may interest you to know that the publisher of this newspaper does not take kindly to writing checks for two people if only one person is doing all the work."
Clark looked at Perry for a moment. "Is something wrong, Chief ?"
Perry's expression changed briefly, but quickly reverted back to the blustery overtone. "Does something have to be wrong with me? Is it asking too much for the Daily Planet to be run like a newspaper and not some small town social club?"
"No, Chief, not at all."
"Thank you, Mr. Kent. Now I'm headed off for some sandwiches at Michael's Deli, and when I get back, I expect you and Ms. Lane--"
"To be halfway through the slug. No problem!" Clark said, and then dashed toward the Planet. Perry, who usually would have found Clark's reaction amusing, merely looked relieved. He removed a handkerchief and swabbed his forehead.
"It's just you and me again, Perry."
Perry closed his eyes. The voice was back. The hollow voice in his head. The voice no one else could hear. The voice he had been hearing for almost two solid days. The voice of the King, Elvis Presley. "Leave me alone," Perry whispered raggedly.
"Hey, man, I wish I could, but you called me."
"I didn't," Perry began to shout, but lowered his voice back to a whisper. "I didn't call you!"
"Well, if evokin' my name twenty times a day over thirty years ain't bein' called, then I don't know what is."
"It's just an expression!"
"Look, bud, I've heard me a power of expressions in my time, but I ain't heard nobody but you say great shades of Elvis."
Perry turned silently and began walking up the sidewalk towards the deli. "It ain't really so bad," the voice continued, "I mean I can see and hear things again. I'm just heartsick over my little girl though. Maybe if I'd lived longer, been there for her--"
Lois removed Clark's hand from her knee. "No office romance, remember?"
Clark tapped his pencil on the arm of the chair. "I hardly call a hand on the knee 'romance', Lois."
Lois did not look away from her monitor. "Clark," she smiled, "I wouldn't either, if I thought for one moment your hand would stay on my knee."
Clark blushed. "I guess I'm just a little anxious. We've both got down time coming, and I want us to spend a few days of it in Smallville."
"Don't worry, I'm sure when Perry sees this story, he'll be happy to cut us loose for a week or two."
"What makes you so sure, Ms. Lane?
"Oh," she shrugged. "I think he'll be impressed by my sidebar which will contain the exclusive interview Superman gave me after the press conference."
Clark smiled rather evilly. "So, *that's* what I gave you after the press conference."
Lois raised an eyebrow seductively. "At least it was exclusive."
"Mmm, that reminds me," he whispered, "After we spend a few days with my folks, I want to fly you to this beautiful little--"
Clark looked up. "Yes, Jimmy?"
"Have you seen the Chief?"
"He said he was going to pick up some sandwiches."
Jimmy drew a hand across his forehead. "Then why'd he want me to wait in his office?"
"Wag your tail, Jimmy," Lois smiled. "Welcome to Perry's dog house."
Jimmy nodded, realization washing over him. "He was pretty sore about coming to look for me."
Clark leaned back in his chair. "Actually, Perry didn't really seem to be himself."
"You're telling me, C.K.! He's been like this for about two days now." Jimmy lowered his voice, "That's why I've been staying out of his way."
Lois looked concerned. "Do you know what's wrong with him?"
Jimmy looked around and pulled up a chair. "A lot of things I think."
"Well, we were having lunch in his office a couple of days ago and everything was fine, but then he bit into his chicken salad sandwich, and…well, let's just say it wasn't as boneless as advertised."
"Ooh," Lois winced in sympathy.
"Yeah. The chief busted a crown and had to make an emergency appointment with the dentist. Everything seemed to go downhill from there." Jimmy leaned forward and rested his arms on Lois' desk. "He got a flat tire on the way to the dentist, and then he got a call at the dentist office that his wife had some kind of accident--"
"Alice?" Clark interrupted. "Is she all right?"
"Sure, C.K. The headlights on her car are kind of cross-eyed now, but she didn't get a scratch. Then, on top of everything else, the chief got a call from--" Jimmy concentrated a moment. "Man! I don't remember if it was the police, F.B.I. or who." He shook his head. "Anyway, they wanted the chief to be a witness against Intergang."
"Intergang!" Lois and Clark said in unison.
"Why would they want Perry?" Lois asked. "Clark and I worked on that story, and even at that we don't have the kind of evidence the government would be interested in."
Clark nodded. "We couldn't turn up anything solid."
"I know," Jimmy said. "But the chief's secret source did come up with something that interested the government. Now the source has gone underground, and the feds want the chief to cough him up."
Jimmy shrugged. "To tell you the truth, I don't think the chief knows where the guy is, so now the feds are leaning on the chief to testify with the source's evidence."
Clark shook his head. "I can't see how far the government expects to get on hearsay testimony."
Lois' eyes widened. "Unless--"
"Oh, God," Clark whispered.
Lois grabbed Clark's lapel. "You've got to contact Superman, Clark!"
"I'm on my way, Lois," he said, and squeezed her shoulder as he left.
"I don't get it. Why does C.K. have to get Superman?"
"Simple, Jimmy. The government, by repeatedly contacting Perry, is making it look like Perry knows something damaging to Intergang."
"So?" Jimmy shrugged. "Isn't it like C.K. said, his testimony would just be hearsay?"
Lois shook her head. "We know it's hearsay, and the government knows it's hearsay, but--"
"Intergang doesn't know!"
Clark hovered over the path from the Planet to Michael's deli searching for Perry White. He had not searched long when he heard Perry shout, "Leave me alone!" Clark zeroed in on Perry as the distinguished editor of the Daily Planet ran down the sidewalk in a blind panic, repeatedly shouting, "leave me alone!" His last outburst had frightened two elderly women back into the store they had been exiting. As Perry rounded the corner into an alley, Clark dropped down in front of him and grabbed his shoulders.
Perry clamped his hands over his ears and closed his eyes. "For God's sake, leave me alone!"
"Mr. White," Clark said gently, "It's me…Superman."
Perry opened his eyes, and with the recognition that it was in fact Superman, he nearly collapsed into the young superhero's arms. Clark steadied Perry, and helped him take a seat on a discarded crate. "Can you tell me what's wrong, Mr. White?"
Perry tried to catch his breath. It was apparent to Clark, that had he not intervened, Perry would have continued his escape in an ambulance. Perry ran a shaky hand through the sparse hairs at the top of his head. "Well, son, to tell you the truth, I think…I think, I'm losing my mind."
"I can't believe it, Clark."
"I know," Clark sighed as he handed her a cup of tea. "After he told me he'd been hearing voices over the past couple of days, I suspected Intergang might be behind it."
"But Jimmy said Perry had only been called to testify early this morning."
"I know," he shrugged, "But I was hoping maybe they had gotten word early on, maybe a leak somewhere."
Clark shook his head. "Doesn't seem to be. I x-rayed Perry's clothes, his office, his car and his home…no devices of any kind."
"How about pharmacological? Some kind of drug, or maybe hypnosis."
"If it is a drug, then it's an untraceable one. I took him to the doctor for a blood test. Nothing out of the ordinary was found. The comprehensive results will take another two days, but it seems unlikely. And," Clark sighed again, "The psychiatrist I spoke to assured me that hypnosis would not act in the manner Perry described."
"What did the psychiatrist say about the voices?"
Clark frowned. "That it could be a psychotic episode of some type, or the onset of mental illness."
Lois broke down and began to weep softly. Clark set down her cup and put his arms around her. "Shh," he soothed, "It'll be all right, Lois."
"He's like a father to me, Clark. He's more like a dad than my 'real' dad."
"I know, baby," he whispered, "I know. There's still hope that this is just temporary, at least according to the doctor. She said that hearing voices is usually associated with schizophrenia, but since that illness usually strikes young adults, Perry is an unlikely candidate."
"Unlikely, but not impossible."
Clark rubbed his hand in small circles on Lois' back. "Well, it's not just that, Lois. The doctor said that because Perry realizes that he shouldn't be hearing the voices is another factor in favor of him not suffering schizophrenia."
"I know," Lois sniffed, "I had to research it once. They usually don't see anything wrong with hearing voices. They actually feel like privileged characters…chosen."
"Exactly," he smiled, and lifted her chin. His eyes searched hers for a long moment. "I invited Perry to stay in Smallville with us."
Lois threw her arms around Clark's neck. "I love you too," she said, and planted a passionate kiss on his lips.
Clark moaned in response to Lois' unexpected assault, and drew his arms tightly around her. He was still amazed at how rapidly and completely they had fallen in love. As the kiss deepened, and Clark could feel his mind hazing away from logic, he realized that what Jimmy had said was true. He liked her, and liking Lois made loving her just a sensual formality.
Lois tucked a few last items into her tote bag. Jimmy shook his head. "I still can't believe the chief is going to Kansas."
"Believe it, Jimmy," Clark smiled. "But he'll be catching a later flight than ours."
Lois shared a private smile with Clark over the 'flight' schedule. "I guess Perry will get your room, and we'll have to sleep together on the sofa."
Jimmy blushed. "I've got some film to redelope…derelove, uh, I'll be in the darkroom!"
Lois and Clark laughed as Jimmy hastily departed. Lois slipped her arms around the small of Clark's back. "Do you think I scared him?"
Clark embraced Lois in a like fashion. "I don't think Jimmy's had enough time to make the transition between you and I being friends, to you and I--"
"Going steady?" she smiled.
He kissed her softly. "You still wearing my ring?"
Lois lifted an eyebrow. "Like I could hide something from a guy with x-ray vision." Lois dipped two fingers beneath her collar and extricated Clark's high school ring pierced by a thin gold chain. She let the ring drop back down as Clark pressed forward for a serious kiss. The Planet began to dissolve and all else seemed to vanish. This illusion was heightened when the usual background noise of the news room began to subside. The sounds of chatter and machinery were being replaced by silence as coworkers became aware of the passionate couple. It was not until a rather enthusiastic onlooker shouted "Go for it!" that Lois and Clark abruptly halted the kiss. Everyone broke into appreciative applause.
The couple, their faces burning, turned and waved as a way of acknowledging the crowd. The pandemonium might have continued if Perry White had not exited the elevator. Everyone returned to business as usual and Lois gave Perry a quick hug. "I'm so glad you'll be in Smallville with us, Perry."
Perry lengthened the hug. "Ya'll need me along about as much as I need a tiger-skin speedo, but I am happy for you two." He held her at arms length. "Over the couple of years that I've seen you together, I'd drift back and forth wondering if a romance would ever happen, or even if it should, but," he glanced up at Clark, "you've been good for each other, and you give me this gut feeling that it's meant to be." He pulled away with a chuckle. "Now I'm not shovelin' bath salts here. If I thought this union was doomed, I'd keep my mouth shut, and never try and tie a pink bow on a cowpie, but you two have this--" Perry interrupted himself. "I think I've been havin' too many hi-balls at Murphy's. I almost said you two have a kind of…magic together." He laughed and shook his head. "Well, I'm gonna get packed and then take Alice to the airport. She's staying with the boys while I camp out in Kansas."
"Probably a smart idea, Perry," Clark nodded, "Considering the depths Intergang has been known to go to."
Clark's statement hung in the air for a moment. No one wanted to mention the violent deaths assumed to be connected to Intergang activity. Especially those which hit close to home. Perry nodded and turned on his heel. "My thoughts exactly," he said, and cast a final wave over his shoulder.
"Clark, would you please--"
"Don't worry, Lois," Clark said softly, "Perry and Alice will have a red and blue guardian angel. At least until Alice is safely on that plane."
"And," Lois smiled, "after the brown-eyed angel has x-rayed every inch of the plane."
Clark nodded. "Come on," he said, and took her hand. The two of them walked up a couple of flights of stairs and stood on the landing of the floor where several business offices were leased. They entered a vacant office which had been recently painted to make it more attractive to prospective buyers. Lois crinkled her nose. "I think I'll pass out from the fumes."
Clark opened the window and sat on the sill. Lois leaned against the sill frame and took a deep breath. "Much better."
"Yep," Clark smiled, "Good old Metropolis soot."
"Kansas snob," Lois said, and pushed his shoulder. Clark made an exaggerated flailing motion, and somersaulted backward out of the window. An instant later he appeared as Superman. He folded his arms as he hovered outside the window, and he wore his 'I-mean-business-I'm-Superman' expression. "Ms. Lane," he said, glowering at Lois, "Metropolis needs a few good men, but we won't have any, if you keep pushing them out of windows."
Lois took a playful swipe at the man of steel. Clark grabbed her wrist, and pulled her out of the window, and into his arms. Lois looked at his handsome face. "Have you always had all of this passion hidden beneath that mild-mannered exterior?"
Clark began nibbling her earlobe as the couple gained altitude. "I had no idea what passion was until I met you, and now that I 'do' know, I want to make up for lost time."
Lois pulled her head back. "Clark, you can only get away with a statement like that if you knew what you were missing and purposely resisted."
Clark and Lois lightly touched down on the roof ledge. "Fair enough," he said, and pulled her closer. "Then let's say I'm making up for lost knowledge."
She looked into Clark's mischievous eyes. "You would have though, wouldn't you?"
"Now who sounds like a fortune cookie."
Lois moved her arms from around his neck, and slipped them around his waist. "You know what I mean. You would have resisted."
"You really don't want me to sing 'Simply Irresistible' do you?"
"Lois," Clark sighed. "I did resist."
"You're right." Lois laid her head against his chest. "I'm sorry."
Clark smiled and began to stroke her hair. "It was my choice, Lois, and it was worth it to me." He tilted her chin up. "Besides, sometimes I was my own worst enemy as far as your Superman attraction was concerned."
"I really did love you as Superman, whether you ever believed it or not. I mean I never had a 'forever' dream about Superman, but I did fantasize about kissing him, making love, and going off on adventures with him." She sighed and traced her hand across the shield on his chest. "Got me through some bad nights. Made me come back to the real world." She looked into his eyes and made that large, crooked smile which he had never been able to resist. "Sounds funny that a fantasy brought me back to reality, huh?"
"Not really," he said, his eyes filled with soft adoration. "Fantasies of you kept me going when reality was a bit unbearable." He looked at her thoughtfully. "Remember when I danced with you as Superman?"
"Oh, God, Clark," she rolled her eyes pleasingly. "That was so romantic."
"It had been a fantasy of mine from the first time I met you. That night, when you invited me to dance, I knew I could live that fantasy."
"Mmm," she purred, "I'm so glad you did."
He placed his lips against her hair. "I almost gave in to you completely that night."
Sudden realization turned up the corner of her lip. "That's why you closed the window."
"Yes. Everything was so perfect, it was dangerous." He tucked her head under his chin. "I remember flying in and you were so beautiful, just lost in the music. Dancing by yourself. I could hardly breathe."
"What I've always wanted to know, is why you didn't give in to my fantasy that night? We finished the dance, you thanked me, and then you said you were tired and had to turn in."
She smiled again. "I kissed your cheek and walked into the bedroom."
"Leaving me alone, and on fire in your living room."
"Ooh, you were on fire?"
"Okay," she sighed. "The truth? When you first flew in the window, I wasn't dancing alone. I was dancing with Clark Kent. I never got to finish my dance with him at the ball, remember?"
Clark looked at her, his eyes sparkled as they reflected the lights from the city surrounding them. "Was Clark winning out even that far back?"
Lois responded in her sexy manner of keeping her face turned down slightly and merely lifting her eyes. "Maybe…and maybe Clark was winning a *lot* earlier than you might imagine."
Clark pushed hard against her lips. He enjoyed giving into her wiles, especially when she expected him to. He applied just enough pressure to force her lips apart. Lois, more than a match for his urgency, opened her mouth wider, and allowed Clark to taste her briefly. After a moment, she pulled away. "Isn't it time to put on your halo?"
"My halo?" he asked breathlessly, then reality intruded. "Alice's flight."
Clark drew his thumb down her jaw, "I guess so," he said regretfully. "Get us packed, and we'll fly to Smallville when I get back."
"I'll be ready."
He kissed her quickly, and then vanished.
Lois held tightly to Clark's neck. "It just sounds kind of mean to me."
"It'll be fun, Lois."
"I thought you were a goody two-shoes."
Clark laughed. "That's why it will work, Lois. If I were known for practical jokes, it wouldn't have a chance."
Lois sighed, "I hate it when you're right."
"You just hate to lose, Lois."
"That's not true!"
"See what I mean?"
The couple landed and Clark stowed the luggage just out of sight of the front door. He knocked, and found it harder than he thought not to grin. Both of his parents came to the door, and their confused expressions told the whole story. There was Lois, and there was their son, but he was dressed as Superman. Martha looked at Jonathan for a moment, and then turned back to the couple and forced a polite smile. "Lois, Superman, this is a…surprise."
"Mr. and Mrs. Kent, it's a pleasure to see you again. Lois felt it would be a good idea if she stayed here while Perry White visited, and she asked if I could fly her out."
Lois, trying to pick up from Clark's clue, continued, "Uh, yes, I thought I might help Perry feel at home…sort of how Clark made me feel at home here last year."
Martha, still confused, smiled again. "That's a good idea, dear. Won't you come in? I have some coffee and cookies in the kitchen."
Jonathan glanced at his son. "I'd invite you in too, Superman, but I guess you're in a hurry to get back to Metropolis."
"Not at all, Mr. Kent," Clark said blithely as he entered the house. "I'd love some coffee and cookies." He then lightly squeezed Lois' shoulder. "Besides, any opportunity to be with Lois is special to me." The Kents exchanged glances again, this time more confounded than before. Lois was grateful that they stood at an angle where they could not see her rolling her eyes.
The foursome entered the tidy kitchen and Jonathan handed Martha a cup and saucer. They continued to telegraph a wealth of information just through eye contact. Martha began filling the cup. "So, Superman, do I take by your statement that you and Lois are…seeing each other?"
Clark put his arms around Lois and kissed her neck. "More than that, Mrs. Kent. We're in love with each other."
The cup and saucer hit the floor and Martha leaped backward. Clark dashed forward and began cleaning the mess at super speed. "I'm sorry, Mom."
"Mom," he said softly and took her hand. "Lois knows I'm Clark. I'm sorry, I thought it would be funny. I guess Lois was right after all, it wasn't."
Martha threw her arms around her son. "Oh, honey! You and Lois?"
"Yes, Mama, we're in love with each other," he said, and never realized how touched his mother always was when he would slip on occasion and call her 'mama'. It was an endearment from childhood, and a great deal of teasing from classmates had weaned him away from the word, but when his heart was very full, he would slip.
Jonathan opened his arms, and Lois happily entered his waiting hug. He, unlike her own father, was good at hugging and making them feel honest. She then embraced Martha and realized at once that this was the hug Clark had grown up in. A hug that shielded him, understood him, and comforted him even when it was not physically available. It was a hug Clark had inherited and shared with Lois. Martha pulled back and smiled. "I'm happy for both of you," she said softly, "Clark needs you in his life."
Lois glanced up and smiled at Clark, "I need *him* too, Martha."
The two couples talked long into the night, drinking coffee, eating cookies and swapping stories of love's triumphs and defeats. Jonathan smiled inwardly as his son dipped a cookie into his coffee and fed it to Lois. The young couple's eyes locked upon each other as everything surrounding them dissolved, just as the cookie had in the coffee. Martha knew Jonathan's private smile, and though no one else would ever see the smile, she knew it was there. She laid a hand atop his, and grinned. Their eyes met, and though not filled with the passion and desire of their son and the woman he loved, their glance transported them back for a moment in time where they were the young couple sharing the breathless beginnings of a lifetime romance. Martha winked at Jonathan and then exaggerated a yawn. "Well, I hate to be a party pooper--"
Jonathan picked up on her hint. "That's right, some of us don't have the luxury of sleeping late in the morning."
"Hey," Clark laughed, "I get up every morning at six, Dad!"
Jonathan placed his hand on Clark's shoulder. "That's what I mean, son, you get two extra hours of sleep."
Lois laughed into her coffee. "Busted."
Clark narrowed his eyes. "All right, Dad, I'll make a deal with you. Lois and I will do the morning chores so you and Mom can sleep in."
"Clark," his mother smiled. "That's not fair to Lois."
"No, Martha, really, I'd love to."
Martha shrugged and pulled a pair of gloves out of a drawer and tossed them onto the table. "Don't let my son's big brown eyes get you into too much trouble."
"Hey--" Clark began to protest.
"That ship has sailed, Martha," Lois grinned as she examined the gloves. "Actually, I was hoping to cook breakfast."
All three Kents shot furtive glances around the table. Martha walked over to a small cabinet and removed a book. "The local Home Economics class was selling these to raise money for new equipment." She placed the book, titled Cooking for the Beginner, on the table.
Clark snickered into *his* coffee. "Busted."
Lois smiled good-naturedly. She took no offense. They were pulling her into their family, and she enjoyed the tug. "Clark, if I weren't afraid of shredding my favorite shoes, I'd kick you in the shin right about now."
Jonathan chuckled. "Well, on that romantic note, I think we'll head upstairs."
"Good night." Lois and Clark said simultaneously, and perhaps a bit too anxiously. The moment the elder couple rounded the corner, the younger couple wrapped their arms around each other. It could be argued that there was an addicting quality to good love, and if that was so, Lois and Clark needed a fix. They hungrily sealed their mouths together and enjoyed some home cooking in the kitchen. As the cooking threatened to boil over, they pulled away breathlessly and decided to take anything more incendiary up to Clark's room.
Lois entered the room and noticed that it looked rather unremarkable, at least considering that a strange visitor from another planet had occupied it for most of his life. She had seen the room before, but this was the first time she was mindful of the whole truth about its occupant. It had been left virtually unchanged from the time he had left it, more or less permanently, to attend college and then travel the world. It was not, however, a shrine preserved by a doting mother, but rather a place Martha considered Clark's, and therefore his to do with as he pleased. Clark smiled sheepishly as he realized he should have done something long ago to make it look less like a high school boy's room. "Sorry about the decor."
"That's okay," she said casually as she sat down on the bed. She leaned against the footboard and looked at Clark thoughtfully." You spent a lot of lonely time here, didn't you?"
Clark shifted uncomfortably. "How'd you guess?"
Lois half-smiled. "Just the wear and tear in all the wrong places." She pointed to the far wall. "The smooth place on the window sill. I'd guess it was made by years and years of a boy just leaning against the frame, staring out the window wondering why he had to be the different one."
Clark turned his glance to the floor. "Your investigative skills are as sharp as ever."
"Not really. You don't have to be from another planet to make that exact same pattern on the wall."
Clark looked at Lois, and understood. He walked to the bed, sat down, and pulled her to him. "I forgot about your dad," he whispered. "You must have been pretty lonely yourself growing up."
"And confused," she sighed, "I used to knock myself out trying to please him, but unless I could have gone through some gender morphing machine, it was useless."
Clark smiled against her hair, "I'm glad you never found that machine."
"Me too," she laughed. "But there was a time I would have stepped into that machine to make him proud of me…just once." She sighed and snuggled deeper into Clark's arms. "It got better in high school-- I made some friends, had my famous big blow up with my dad, and then moved out. My self esteem carried on through college. Well, until Linda King…but you've heard that story."
Clark nodded, and kissed the top of her head. "The big rivalry. I don't know who the guy was, but I'm glad you never got too serious with him. You might be in his arms tonight, instead of mine."
"Believe me, Clark, if his head could be turned by Linda King, it deserved to be on a platter, and not lying next to mine on a pillow."
Clark laughed and leaned back, pulling Lois on top of him. "I'm still glad." His voice took on the soft, gravelly tone that Lois was beginning to hear and appreciate more and more. He smiled warmly as Lois propped herself up on her elbows and looked down into his eyes. Clark laced his fingers through her hair and swept it to the back of her head and then gently drew her to him. As he felt the weight of her body rest upon him, and their lips touched, Clark began to dissolve. He always did.
Whenever Lois loved him physically, it was more than sensual, more than euphoric, and perhaps more than a human male could comprehend. Having been invulnerable since the age of ten, Clark was deprived of the subtlety of tactile sensations. He could sense the heat, or the cold, but neither effected him adversely. And while he could discern the softness of an object, the sharpness of an object held no sensory meaning for him. Growing up with these contradictions had always bothered Clark. At least until he met Lois Lane.
He could feel her faintest breath on his skin, the exquisite pain when she nibbled his ear, and she was even able to tickle him. This was true all of the time with Lois, not just when they were intimate. Clark learned that the globe he had recovered from his stolen spaceship would 'speak' to him, if his concerns and doubts projected strongly enough. The globe explained that Lois was the 'fated' one, and that no one else, including the parents who raised him, would be able to 'touch' him, in the human sense of the word. Why Lois was the one fated to be his mate, the globe did not say, but it was enough for Clark that she was.
Clark's lip curled at the corner. He remembered telling Lois about the globe's 'revelation' and how Lois had reacted almost with anger at the thought that she was predestined for *anything*. She wanted answers--proof of what she had called a 'mystic crystal revelation'. He smiled again. Lois had been struggling for some time to conquer an old, long held desire to control…everything. He had recognized this aspect of Lois right away, and why not. She was doing the same thing he had been doing all of his life, only the reasons behind the desire for control were different. He wanted to protect his secret, and she wanted to protect her heart. Perhaps this empathy is what kept Lois from being any angrier than she had been when she discovered that he was also Superman. She knew all too well how difficult it was to relinquish a lifetime of control. How dangerous to trust. How terrifying to love. And how impossible to submit.
Lois's temper had threatened to boil over into a four alarm tirade, but during her rant, the globe spoke to her. It spoke to her with the voice and form of Clark's Kryptonian mother Lara. The lovely, dignified woman spoke to Lois across a chasm of history and antiquity. She reassured Lois that she neither had to fear, nor adhere to the notion of a 'destiny' with her son Kal-El. It could be unwritten if she so desired, because the bond they shared was valueless without a genuine loving devotion at its foundation. Lois understood at that moment what Lara had meant. The bond that attracted them might be a thing of destiny, but loving each other was a choice, and for Lois, that choice had been an absolute struggle. Not a struggle in her heart between Clark and Superman, but a struggle between Lois and Lois.
A struggle between the Lois who had built up extreme control mechanisms to protect her from emotional closeness, and the Lois who became the victim of that control; empty, hungry and restless. Whenever Lois's control mechanisms were put to the test, it exacted a great toll on the 'empty' Lois, and no one exacted a greater toll on both of them than Clark Kent. Clark became a permanent red alert, and while one Lois burned the midnight oil finding ways to discourage him, the other Lois simply burned. Anytime she felt her desire and longing for this man threaten to surface, more energy was expended to rebuff him, hurt him, and keep him away--buying time so that the extreme energy expended could be replenished for the next assault. But he was too persistent, and if drastic measures were not taken, Lois's defense system would be exhausted. She needed a safe place to hide, and Superman was perfect.
Superman provided some sustenance for the empty Lois, and the controlling Lois perceived no threat from the unattainable fantasy man. That was her greatest tactical error. After a time, Superman became like the chocolate she coveted; sweet, forbidden, and void of nutritional value. If any woman could die from malnutrition of the soul, it was Lois Lane. This hunger for something more led her to Clark Kent, and though her body reacted toxically at first to the change in diet, Clark became a tonic to her soul. So, whether destiny, choice, or a change in cosmic menus, Lois was in Clark's arms on a still night in Kansas.
After the couple had loved each other with deliberate, and satisfying slowness, they curled into each others arms and enjoyed an afterglow of cuddling. As Lois felt herself begin to drift toward sleep hearing the crickets and frogs singing outside the window, she wondered what sounds Clark might have heard growing up on Krypton. She yawned and snuggled deeper against Clark's body, and was grateful that neither of them would know the answer to that question.
Clark nudged Lois gently. "It's time for work."
Lois moaned, and opened her eyes a mere crack. "It's not morning, Clark, it's still dark outside!"
"That doesn't matter on a farm, Lois."
"No wonder we're no longer an agrarian society," she muttered into her pillow.
Clark smiled and sat next to her on the bed. "Tell you what, I'll go ahead and do my dad's chores. That'll give you at least another hour of sleep, because I won't be able to use my super speed for all of them."
This intrigued Lois, though not enough to open her eyes more than the crack. "Why not?"
"Well, for one thing," Clark shrugged, "If I started throwing chicken feed out at high velocity, I might as well be feeding them with a machine gun." He leaned close to her ear. "And as far as milking a cow at super speed--"
Lois pushed his face away. "Please, Clark, no gory details about instant butter!"
He laughed and kissed her neck. "One hour," he whispered and pushed away from the bed. He dressed at super speed, and hurried out into the yard, and though he should not have been surprised by the sight of his father feeding the chickens, he was. "Dad! I said I'd do the chores this morning."
His father did not look up. "I know son, but I was feeling a little restless. Old habits I guess."
Clark approached the pen. "What's wrong, Dad?"
"Wrong? Who said anything was wrong?" He replied cheerfully, but not convincingly.
"Come on, Dad, what is it? Is it Lois?"
"No," his father responded, almost too eagerly. "Well, not really Lois, son, just…I don't know. I guess it's that someone else knows your secret."
"Dad," he smiled. "Lois would never tell."
"Oh, son, I know that," he sighed. "I guess your mother's right, I worry too much."
Clark watched the apple-shaped man he called 'Dad' tossing out the feed. In many ways he was typical of American fathers. He kept most of his emotions in, and was more likely to respond to an offered hug, than to initiate one, so Clark was pleased when he had initiated the hug with Lois. At social gatherings he would sit back with his pie plate and let his wife do most of the talking. It usually took something extraordinary for his father to let his emotions reach the surface, and Clark's secret, 'the' secret, was just extraordinary enough. Clark thought a moment, and decided to open this up completely with his father. He draped his arms on top of the fence, and rested his chin on his crossed hands. "I love her so much, dad. She takes a lot of the burden of being two people off my shoulders."
"How, son?" his father asked, but continued to spread the feed.
"Well, she seems to be a better liar than me…well, I mean she sounds more convincing," he laughed. "That part of becoming Superman was never easy for me, but whenever I let Lois know that I have to leave, she'll just make up some errand, or interview, and sends me on my way." Clark lowered his eyes. He realized he still wasn't quite getting through. "She makes me feel like a man, Dad, even though I know I'm not one, and never can be."
That statement worked. Jonathan set the feed pail down and approached the fence. "You *are* a man, son."
Clark shook his head. "No, Dad, I'm not. I'm a Kryptonian," he shrugged, "Whatever that means."
"Clark, you were only born on Krypton. You were raised here."
"Dad, that's like saying if you take a tiger cub out of the jungle, and raise it as a pet, it's no longer a tiger." Clark sighed his long frustrated sigh. "Don't get me wrong, Dad, you and Mom did a great job of raising me to be a man--"
"I hope so, son," his father chuckled, "We didn't know how to raise a Kryptonian."
Clark smiled, "I know, Dad, but growing up, I felt inferior to men."
Jonathan raised his eyebrows, "Someone who can fly, crush boulders into dust, and bounce bullets off his chest, felt inferior?"
Clark nodded. "Yeah. I guess it was because I was so different. I couldn't afford to let anyone get close to me, because if they ever did, I thought they'd see right through me." Clark slipped his hands into his pockets. "I kept waiting for someone to point a finger at me, and tell me I'm an impostor. I suppose it's why I never really competed for Lois against other guys, because I felt like I couldn't compete."
"I'm afraid I don't follow that, son."
"Because they were real, and I wasn't. They weren't pretending to be men, they *were* men." Clark shook his head. "I really can't explain it in a way you can understand, Dad, but--"
"Son, son," his father soothed. "I think I do understand." He walked around the fence, and put his hand on Clark's shoulder. "When your mother and I found you, I was afraid I wouldn't know how to be a father. At least not a good one. Babies, whether they come from delivery rooms or outerspace, just don't come with training manuals." He and Clark laughed as they began to walk down the fence line. "It was strictly on the job training. I wondered if I was doing 'this' right or 'that' right," his father sighed. "It was even scarier than being in the Army. But, when you turned out so good, I figured we did something right."
Clark stopped, and hugged his dad. "You did everything right. At least Lois seems to approve."
An impish glint sparkled in Jonathan's eyes, "Oh?"
Clark felt a blush burn beneath his skin, "No comment."
Martha, though truly determined to make herself stay in bed, found it impossible once Jonathan was no longer by her side. She shook her head, got dressed, and trotted down stairs. She heard dishes rattling in the kitchen, and knew that Lois was already 'attempting' breakfast. She planted an optimistic smile on her face, and rounded the corner. Though Lois had far too many cooking utensils spread out on the counter and the range, they were not in any sitcom disarray, but rather neatly arranged and stacked.
Lois sat at the table studying the cookbook with as much effort as she would have put into reading a source file. So intent on her studying, she actually jumped when Martha placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Oh! Martha, you scared me."
"I'm sorry, Lois," she smiled, and pulled out a chair. "I didn't expect you to be here quite so early."
Lois shrugged. "Well, Clark said I wouldn't have to get up until five, but the bed wasn't as warm without his arms--" Lois blushed, "Uh, I…I mean--"
"Honey," Martha laughed, "I'm so glad you finally said something! It was so hard for Jon and I to pretend to be fooled by you two pretending."
Lois smiled, and closed the book. "Were we that obvious?"
"Oh, Lois, you two have been in love for so long--"
"But, Martha, I only told Clark--"
Martha patted Lois' hand. "I'm not talking about the formal declarations. I'm sure you loved Clark long before you told him so."
Lois nodded. "Yes, but it was…complicated."
"It always is, sweetie. That's why love is a four-letter word." Both women laughed, and embraced each other. After talking a bit longer, they decided to tackle breakfast, and much to Martha's surprise, Lois did rather well, losing some points, however, for buttering the toast before putting it in the toaster.
Lois tucked a leg beneath her as she sat down on the large, soft sofa in the living room, waiting for Clark to get done with the dishes. He apparently had promised his mother he would not clean them at super speed, since the last time he had done so resulted in several dishes losing their patterns. Lois leafed through a photo album as Martha sat next to her reading an article on spot welding, and Jonathan looked admiringly over Lois' shoulder. "God," Lois sighed, "Didn't Clark ever have an 'ugly' phase? I mean I at least was chubby in elementary school." Lois traced a finger down the shadows of Clark's past. "I hope if we have children, they take after Clark," she said, and then caught herself.
Lois could not remember such an awkward pause. She knew the Kents had been unable to have children, and now Lois began to wonder what the Kents had probably wondered for a long time. Could Clark father a child with a human woman? Lois, not wanting to completely side-step the issue, decided to plow ahead. "I'm not sure I could raise any kind of child, much less one with super powers. How did you…well…do it? I know you had wanted children, but to end up with one with super powers--"
Martha placed the magazine in her lap. "Well," she sighed, "Jon and I had prayed for a child for so long, it just seemed kind of ungrateful to add a footnote stipulating 'Earth only'."
Jonathan laughed. "We saw Clark as a miracle, and then worked real hard to make sure we didn't raise him like one."
"How do you mean?"
Clark stepped quietly into the room. "They mean," Clark smiled. "They raised me like a normal kid."
"Uh huh. A normal kid who can fly and has x-ray vision."
"Speaking of which," Clark said, and grabbed his glasses, "Perry is coming up the walkway."
"So soon? He said he was going to call us so we could meet him at the airport."
"Apparently," Clark said, as Perry knocked at the door, "he changed his plans."
Lois and Clark went to the door, and both made an effort to hide their shock upon seeing Perry White. The once robust editor of the Daily Planet looked haggard and drawn. There were circles under his eyes, and his complexion was sallow. Lois managed one of her gracious smiles, "Perry! We weren't expecting you so soon."
"Sorry…I, uh…decided on an earlier flight. Hope that doesn't put anyone out."
"Of course not, Chief," Clark said warmly, and took Perry's luggage. "You'll get to sleep in my room."
"No, Clark, the couch would be just fine."
"Nonsense", Martha said, and started to escort Perry up the stairs. "Clark and Lois will be *just fine* on the sofa." Perry managed a flash of his former self as he looked over his shoulder, nodded, and smiled approvingly at the young couple. Lois blushed and lowered her eyes.
Clark, however, looked a bit horror-stricken. "Lois, did you tell my mom that we--"
"Well, accidentally, but she said that she already knew."
"She's a mom, sweetheart. Don't you know moms have eyes in the back of their heads, ESP, SSR, and shoes with silencers?" Lois slowly moved her hands up his chest. "Not to mention we can't keep our hands off each other."
"Sorry, that was an acronym me and Lucy used. Suspicious Sound Radar."
He tugged her down onto the sofa. "I guess I should be relieved, but I feel kind of embarrassed."
"Well, psychologists say we all have an inner child, and yours," she kissed his cheek, "is a boy scout."
"Very funny," he said, and put his arm around her. "Did you see how bad Perry looked?"
"He's not sleeping."
"Yeah, I remember that piece you did on sleep deprivation just before Perry officially partnered us, and if I remember correctly, if he doesn't get some good, solid sleep soon--"
"Elvis will be joined by the whole choir from rock 'n' roll heaven."
Clark rubbed his cheek against the top of her head. "As gutsy as I thought you were for making yourself go through sleep deprivation to add that 'personal' touch to your story, I drew the line when you broke into tears and insisted we have a proper funeral for your dead fern."
"Yes," Lois sighed wistfully, "But you were very sweet telling me that the fern had led a full and productive life, and died peacefully in its sleep."
Clark laughed and whispered, "Come on."
"We just sat down."
"Well, we'll sit down again," he pulled Lois to her feet, "but outside."
Lois shook her head as she walked arm in arm with Clark towards the door. "So, how long ago 'did' Kansas invent musical chairs?"
Perry leaned against the window sill of Clark's bedroom. Weariness had now become a physical weight. He did not dare lay down, close his eyes, let his mind drift, or even situate himself in a position too comfortable, and therefore conducive to sleep, or he would be lost. He began counting the plum trees in the yard as a distraction, and had only reached number four, when he saw Lois and Clark stroll into view. He smiled down at the young couple. It was strange, but Perry knew somehow that Clark would be the one. The one who would finally give Lois something more to live for *other* than the Daily Planet.
The couple seated themselves on an old glider swing. Clark extended a leg out in front, dug in his heel, and began to power the swing gently back and forth. As Perry watched the couple cuddling, and sharing the secrets lovers share, his mind drifted back to when Lois and Clark had first met. How long ago was that? Oh yes, the time of the big Space Station Prometheus story, and the razing of the old theater. This was how Perry White marked time, the passing years, and the tick of the clock; headlines and deadlines. He knew no other way.
He remembered Clark in his cheap, out of date suit, and unruly hair. Here was a hungry boy who wanted to work for a newspaper. This was no college kid fresh out of journalism 101 with the ink not yet dry on his diploma, nor was he a young lion waiting for his first taste of blood. What was he? Who exactly was Clark Kent? Perry had scarcely begun to cogitate the possibilities, when Lois Lane had blustered into his office. She, as usual, was defying his authority, dismissing her assignment, and raving on about a new story. He actually expected no less from her. She had an uncanny intuition about breaking stories, and it was pointless to try and stop her. Besides, her hunches panned out ninety percent of the time, so why argue with success.
Lois had barely acknowledged the bespectacled young man in the rumpled suit when Perry introduced her to Clark. The young man, however, had noticed her. This was not odd of course, because Lois was quite lovely, but Clark had risen to his feet as she entered the room. Not in the courtly fashion that was learned and practiced at a prep school, but in a homespun fashion where manners were taught at a kitchen table by good parents, and became second nature to a boy, and later the man. Who was Clark Kent?
"You had me runnin' around like a chicken with its head cut off, man. Why'd you come to Kansas?"
The voice! The voice was back, and now Perry, through fatigue, lack of sleep, and a sense of hopelessness, slammed open the window. "No more!" He shouted, and then leaped.
"How is he, Mom?"
Martha patted her son's shoulder. "He's fine honey, the doctor gave him a shot so he'll sleep. I think he needs that more than anything else."
"Mom, he thinks he's hearing the voice of Elvis Presley's ghost. He needs a lot more than sleep."
"I know, honey. He sounds a little like Rufus Windel."
"An old man I knew when I was a little girl. He thought he was a character from Great Expectations, and my mother would invite him over for tea and sweet rolls because she thought he added elegance to her tea time when he'd suddenly break into a British accent."
Clark half-smiled. "Well, I'm afraid Perry isn't as happy with his delusion as Mr. Windel was with his."
"At least you were there to catch him."
"This time, Mom," Clark sighed. "Even Superman can't watch somebody twenty-four hours a day."
Lois came trotting into the room. "How's Perry?"
"Good. I just got off the phone with Jimmy, and he said Dr. Falke was killed by a hit and run driver yesterday."
Clark frowned. "I've never heard of Dr. Falke."
"But Perry has. Falke is..um, 'was' his dentist."
Lois and Clark shared a smile of recognition. "Come on," Clark said, and the two hurried up the stairs to Perry's room. They entered quietly and Clark lowered his glasses. After a moment of x-raying Perry's jaw, he nodded. Lois started to speak, but Clark put a finger to her lips and tilted his head toward the door.
The couple stepped into the hallway, and Clark spoke in a whisper. "There's some kind of electronic device in that crown Perry had repaired. I'd guess a miniature transceiver, because the guy doing the Elvis broadcasts not only needs to hear Perry, but--"
"He needs to hear if anyone else is in the room 'with' Perry."
"Exactly. It's important that 'Elvis' not be overheard by anyone else."
"So now what?"
"Now Superman is going to sit in Perry's room till he wakes up."
"I need you to make some cue cards for me."
Lois smiled, "Okay, but when I worked briefly for LNN, they called them 'idiot' cards."
Clark sat in his desk chair, and watched Perry sleeping. He, like Perry, drifted back to that first meeting with Lois Lane. He had been instantly attracted to her. He had initially tried to dismiss the attraction as simply a matter of his being out of touch with women, well, people in general during a good part of his travels. He had stuck to the outskirts and sparsely populated areas in order to avoid prolonged contact with anyone in an effort to protect his secret. Since he could not resist answering a cry for help, in those days it became a matter of getting in, and getting out quickly, and not letting anyone get too close a look at him. Even so, rumors would start up about an 'angel' man performing miracles, and when sketchy descriptions became too accurate, he'd move on.
When he arrived in Metropolis, he was overwhelmed, yet thrilled by the pace and excitement of such a big city. He began to think that perhaps such a densely populated area might actually be a better hiding place. He'd be one face among millions, and could blur into the background. The Daily Planet was the most revered paper in the world, and if he could get a job as a stringer--a freelancer, he'd be able to mail in his stories, and not be tied to a desk where his identity would be too difficult to keep secret. But after meeting Lois Lane, he was filled with hunger, and he would find a way of earning a seat in that news room if he had to create the headlines himself.
"Alice--" Perry moaned. Clark stood next to the bed. Perry's eyes opened, and as they began to fill with recognition, Clark placed his hand over the chief editor's mouth. He then held up one of the cue cards. It read: "Your dentist has been killed. Lois Lane believes he was murdered." Clark laid the card aside, and picked up the next. "Clark Kent contacted me. Instructed me to x-ray your jaw. A sending- receiving device was placed in your crown." Clark picked up the last card: "If you hear the 'voice', keep him talking. I can follow the sound."
Perry's eyes rolled back, and he sighed with relief. He stretched his hand out to Superman. Clark smiled and shook his hand. Perry then pantomimed the need to write something. Clark was careful to survey the bedroom as if he were unfamiliar with its contents. He retrieved a pad and pen from the desk, and handed them to Perry. Clark nodded after reading the note, and exited the room.
He stood at the top of the stairs. Lois and his parents waited below. He pressed a finger to his lips and waited. Perry began to shout. "Hello! Hey! Is anybody here?" Clark smiled at his silent partners down below, and slipped back into Perry's room. Perry held up another note which read, "Now we wait."
Clark sat down, sweeping his cape out of the way. He had barely gotten comfortable when he heard the voice. Perry's eyes opened wide and he touched his ear and pointed to Superman. Clark smiled and nodded and then signaled Perry to keep the voice talking. Clark leaped out the window easily following the drawl of the ersatz Elvis.
His flight only lasted a quarter of a mile. A man wearing a headset in a deserted farmhouse was talking about the humiliation of singing Hound Dog to a real dog on an old television program. Clark lightly touched down and listened. The man finally finished, removed the headset, and placed his Elvis notes aside. He picked up a phone and Clark listened to the distinctive tone each number sang. Clark shrugged, and was airborne again. This was a Metropolis number.
"Intergang," Lois said with an air of satisfaction. "I knew it."
"Yep. They're gaslighting Perry all right."
Lois nodded. "I have to hand it to them this time. Discrediting his testimony by making him seem unstable was a stroke of genius. Not at all like the old Bill Church days of terror and fatal reprisals."
Clark put an arm around Lois's shoulders. "I gave Perry a note explaining what's going on. We still can't speak openly in front of him, or their transceiver will pick it up."
"So, how do we move on this, partner."
"Well," Clark cleared his throat, "Perry wrote down a plan, but I'm not too keen on the idea."
"Oh?" Lois smiled. She could tell when her partner was embarrassed. It didn't matter whether he was from Krypton or not. When embarrassed, Clark's ears turned a nice shade of red. "Let me see what Perry wrote. I can be objective."
"Fork it over, Kent."
Clark sighed, and handed the folded piece of paper to Lois. Lois smiled, and then began to laugh aloud the further she read. "This is perfect!"
"What's perfect?" Jonathan asked as he descended the stairs carrying Perry's empty lunch tray.
"Jonathan," Lois seemed to glow with delight, "Perry thinks we should fight Intergang's phony ghost with a ghost of our own." Lois shot a quick smile to Clark. "And he thinks Superman should play the part."
Jonathan began to chuckle. Clark folded his arms, "Dad."
"I'm sorry, son, but Perry's idea is good, and only Superman could go up against Intergang and not get hurt."
Clark sighed with resignation. "So what do I do?"
Lois's glow intensified. She slipped her arm around his, and began urging him up the stairs. "First we unpack your leather jacket…do you have any really tight jeans?"
Jonathan shook his head as he watched the brunette dynamo hustle Clark up the stairs. Jonathan understood, in that particular moment, everything that Clark had tried to tell him. Lois had gotten past the 'super' and found the 'man'. There had been times in the past couple of years when Jonathan had wanted his son to leave Metropolis. It was too dangerous. Some new plan, it seemed, was always being hatched to destroy his son, Superman. But, as if casting a toxic spell, two brown eyes kept Clark imprisoned in that city. What was there about Lois that Clark could not escape? Jonathan shook his head one last time in bewilderment, realizing that he would never have that answer. All that was important is that a curse between them had become an enchantment, and that his son was content with who and what he was for the first time in his life, and Jonathan needed no more insight than that.
Lois waved off the offending smell. "What 'is' that? It smells like the Gotham City public incinerator!"
Martha laughed. "It's bee smoke. A lot of farmers supplement their income selling honey. I borrowed as much of it as I could," she said, and indicated several funnel cans lying on the ground. "I thought it would be nice if Elvis's ghost had a rather ethereal entrance."
Lois gave Martha a quick hug. "Broadway's loss is our gain."
Martha looked around. "Where 'is' Elvis?"
A loud sigh in the shadows was followed by the appearance of a handsome young man, carrying a guitar. Martha put a hand to her cheek and whispered, "Oh, my."
Lois, always one to do her homework, did no less for the transformation of Clark Kent into Elvis Presley. She had fixed his hair as Elvis had worn his early in his career, and had lengthened Clark's sideburns by cutting a Halloween mustache in half. "Don't laugh!" Clark admonished.
"Oh, honey, I wouldn't think of it. You look wonderful!"
Lois folded her arms and lifted an eyebrow. "See?"
Clark glanced from side to side. "Where's Dad?"
Martha smiled. "He should be back soon. He's putting up some speakers for your grand entrance near that old farmhouse."
"Dad doesn't know anything about speakers."
"No, but Harlan Jeffries does, and I told him that we needed the speakers for a barbecue next Sunday."
Clark rolled his eyes. "I never liked Harlan much. He was always trying to dance with somebody else's girlfriend, just to cause trouble."
Lois smiled, "The Midwest's answer to Jeb Friedman."
"Don't remind me. Jeb made me want to--"
"All set," Jonathan's voice came from the darkness. "Well," he chuckled, as he stepped into the clearing. "My son, the king of rock and roll."
"Thanks, Dad…I think."
Lois tugged at the leather jacket. "Say it right, Clark. You might as well squeeze in one more practice."
Clark shook his head and shrugged. He turned his body slightly, set his feet wider apart, winged the guitar out to one side, dropped his head slightly, brought his arm up perpendicular to his chest, and drawled, "Thank ya very much." Dragging out the word 'much' as he did so. Martha laughed loudly and applauded. Jon nodded approvingly. "How many Presley movies did you have to watch to get that right, son?"
"I lost count."
"He had the most trouble getting the hip movement right."
Clark leaned toward Lois, and smiled rather wickedly. "Not really. I just liked watching you demonstrate."
Lois pushed his face away playfully. "How long do we have to wait?"
"Well, I overheard them say they would be meeting with 'Elvis' around nine o'clock."
Lois looked at her watch. "It's show time."
"He's starting to sound like he accepts it."
"Good job, Bobby," a hollow cheeked man said. "They said you were the best in the business, and I guess if you could convince Perry White, they weren't lying."
Bobby shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Then why did Intergang send you guys out here to the sticks to check up on me?"
"No, Bobby," the hollow cheeked man laughed. "I'm the paymaster." He withdrew an unmarked envelope, and the moment he began extracting crisp, green bills, he had Bobby's undivided attention. Bobby's attention was so rapt in the stack of money growing on the table, that he had forgotten about the silent man who had accompanied the 'paymaster'. The silent man extracted a syringe from his pocket. The instant the needle was about to pierce his neck, Elvis began to sing.
"Since my baby left me,
"I found a new place to dwell.
"It's down at the end of Lonely Street,
"At Heartbreak Hotel."
The three men bolted from the table and out the only door the small farmhouse possessed. The two Intergang visitors brandished their pistols and looked out into the darkness. A thick white fog had settled near the farmhouse, and due to the heavy moist air it stayed close to the ground, and seemed to keep confined to one small area. The music abruptly ended, and a figure began to emerge from the fog.
"You're trespassing, kid," the hollow cheeked man said, but Clark kept advancing. "Maybe I wasn't clear enough, Gomer," he said, and thumbed down the safety. "Turn around now, or you can swap the leather jacket for body bag vinyl."
Clark smiled as he thought of a line from the Maltese Falcon, 'The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.' Clark took two more steps forward.
Bobby cringed and plugged his ears as the two men began firing. Their guns sounded a lot louder and sharper than the ones in the movies. Through the bright muzzle flash it was apparent that not only was the figure still standing, it was still walking. "Hey," Clark drawled. "Watch the guitar, man! I don't mind you shootin' at me, but it ain't like I can just go buy me another guitar, " he said, and rattled the guitar until a couple of lead slugs dropped out. "Know what I mean?"
The short man fainted. Bobby grabbed the other man by the arm. "It's him! It's really him!"
"Who?" the man said, and tried to pry off Bobby's bone-crushing grip.
"Elvis! The real ghost of Elvis Presley!"
"Well, what do you know," Clark said, and began to levitate. He hovered about a meter above the ground. "Three men, and only one brain between 'em."
"Elvis Presley is dead!" The hollow cheeked man shouted.
"You must not read the National Whisper," Clark smiled. "But you're right, partner. Bein' dead is a requirement for bein' a ghost. At least there's no written exam."
"Oy," Lois whispered from her hiding place. "What a ham." She touched Martha's shoulder. "I guess you two should do your bit now, and I'll sneak into the farmhouse.
Jonathan and Martha hugged her, and then ran toward the 'miracle'. They made certain not to look in Clark's direction. "Is everyone all right?" Martha asked, and sounded convincingly terrified. Jon put a comforting arm around her. "We heard some gunshots."
Bobby, who was on the ragged edge anyway, shattered completely. "They shot Elvis! Don't you see him? He's floating right there," the terrified man blubbered and pointed to Clark.
Jon and Martha looked at their son. Martha shrugged. "I don't see anything."
The hollow cheeked man pushed Bobby out of the way. "Are you blind, Grandma? You don't see that guy floating?"
Jon pulled Martha in protectively. "Maybe they're on drugs."
Bobby fell to his knees. "Forgive me, Elvis. I was just hired by Intergang. It wasn't anything personal."
"I'm sorry you said that, Bobby," the hollow cheeked man sighed as he dropped the empty magazine from the well, and snapped in a loaded one. "Because now you, and Mr. and Mrs. American Gothic here are gonna have to join Elvis."
Elvis began to spin, and in an instant looked remarkably like Superman. The hollow cheeked man was disarmed before he even had a chance to jack the slide. Clark tied them up quickly with baling twine, and walked over to his parents. "Sheriff Harris should be expecting these men. Lois Lane phoned her earlier this evening."
"Oh, speaking of Lois, so…Superman, she's inside the house."
Clark nodded, and watched his parents escort the three men away. The short man still seemed a bit unsteady on his feet. Once they had vanished from view, Clark entered the farmhouse. Lois glanced up from examining Bobby's script. "Long live the king."
"What did you think of my performance?"
"It reminded me of a science experiment from junior high."
She placed her hands on his chest. "Proving that hot air rises."
Before Clark could respond, his hearing picked up an electronic pulse. He wrapped himself around Lois, and an instant later they were both in a slough several yards from the farmhouse. Clark examined her quickly. "Are you all right?"
Lois flung the mud from her hands. "I think so..no, wait." She reached inside her collar and pulled out a broken gold chain. "I lost your ring, Clark!"
Clark hugged her with relief. "You scared me for a minute. The ring can be replaced."
"It won't be the same," she said, and sounded close to tears.
He tipped up her chin. "It's not meant to," he whispered, and reached into his mud-caked belt and extracted a modest looking engagement ring. "That day before the press conference when you thought I was going to propose, well, I was, but I had my high school ring ready as a contingency plan in case--"
"In case I said something stupid like I wasn't ready for an engagement yet?"
Clark smiled. "Does that mean you 'are' ready for an engagement?"
Lois brushed some mud from his cheek with her thumb. "I suppose if I'm ever going to get any decent rates on my accident premium, I'd better keep you as close as possible," she looked into Clark's eyes. Everything Clark felt, showed in his eyes, and the joy she saw there made her smile. Clark kissed her softly, and then slipped the ring on her finger.
Jon and Martha kept trotting toward the burning farmhouse. They had just met Rachel Harris on the road, and turned over the three prisoners when they heard the explosion. Martha, being in better shape than Jonathan, sprinted ahead. She paused for a moment, and then turned around and began walking back toward her husband. Jon looked confused. "Couldn't you find them?" he asked through a chorus of puffs and wheezes.
"I found them. They're fine."
"I don't think they'd appreciate any company at the moment, Jonathan."
The couple walked on in silence for quite a while, and then Martha stopped. "What is it, exactly, that makes men so hot and bothered when they see a woman coated from head to toe in slimy mud?"
Jonathan smiled, but said nothing. He even resisted the urge to say 'That's my boy'. He put his arm around Martha, and continued to walk, thankful that she had not caught him the night he had gotten up at two in the morning to watch Mud Wrestle Mania live from Kansas City.
Lois, freshly showered and dressed in casual clothes, sat in the dark. "Can I please take the blindfold off now, Clark?"
Her fiance sat beside her and lifted the blindfold. She blinked, trying to see in the dim light. Before she could completely focus, Clark placed a piece of raw chicken in her hand. Lois examined the offering. "I don't know what to say. First a diamond, and now poultry. You sure know how to sweep a girl off her feet."
Clark reached into his pocket, pulled out a length of twine, and dropped that on top of the chicken, "Here ya go."
"And kite string. Well, it all makes sense now. It's a cooking lesson," she patted his arm. "But even if you drag out a key and a kite from somewhere, we still won't be able to fry this chicken."
Clark smiled, "Lois, I have no intention of reinventing the Franklin stove."
Clark's words still hung in the moist air as the darkness below them transformed into an orange velvet sheet. "Wolf canal!" she shouted, and planted a hard kiss on Clark's lips. Lois hopped off the culvert and ran down to the bank. She stretched out on her stomach, and dipped her fingers in the water, making the orange color ripple, even as the dawn began to paint it pink. She glanced over her shoulder, "I love you."
The man who would soon be her husband, floated down from the culvert and settled on the bank next to her. He began to rub her back, "Perry said we could have a couple of days off. I figured you could teach me how to catch crabs, and I could teach you how to fish."
Lois sat up and looked at her fiance. The near blush of sunrise cast the spectrum of colors onto the lenses of Clark's glasses. She put her arms around his neck, "The boy with kaleidoscope eyes."
Clark kissed her engagement ring, "Lois in the sky with diamonds."