Summary: After the Lois-Lex wedding incident, Perry notices that Lois and Clark are walking on eggshells around each other. He decides to help them get their edge back by sending them "on assignment" to a romantic village in South America, where he hopes nature will take its course.
Sometimes closeness is measured in minutes, inches, or even a leaner in a game of horseshoes. The latter qualifier being the one favored by Perry White the editor-in-chief of the most respected newspaper in Metropolis; The Daily Planet. Though an unlikely candidate for a big city paper with his easy going Southern drawl, disarming demeanor, as well as an unflagging loyalty to The King, Elvis Presley; he was in fact the keenest fox who ever wore the title. His ability to find and exploit raw talent was the envy of every other editor, but Perry knew that it was more than a willingness to work with an unknown, rather letting that unknown prove him or herself to the man behind the big desk was the key. How hungry are they?
Clark Kent and Lois Lane sat across from Perry during the weekly bull session. They were the jewels in the Daily Planet's crown and a tribute to Perry's foxiness. Lois, being the more seasoned of the two, would take any challenge if presented with the proper incentive, and money was rarely the incentive that attracted her to any given story. There was precious little money to be made in the newspaper business, at least when compared to the money to be had in television journalism, and thus a different force was at work within Lois Lane. Had she wanted the money television had to offer, it could have easily been hers. She had the beauty and sex appeal endemic to that branch of news reporting, but there she sat, in a room filled with men, more respected than most who surrounded her, except for Perry White himself, and no one held her in higher regard than her partner and friend, Clark Kent.
Clark was a much more likely newspaper hopeful. He had a small town sense of life enhanced by extensive world travel. Despite such an unlikely combination of paths, he was neither a hick, nor a world-weary snob. He was optimistic, easy to laugh, and held himself above no one else. He carried the values his loving parents had instilled in him, and adapted them to the Metropolis fast lane. Perhaps his greatest contradiction was also his greatest secret. Beneath his boyish good looks, and sensible suits, the most famous being on Earth hid himself away until someone needed him. Clark Kent was the Metropolis champion known as Superman.
He had only recently been made aware of his alien origin. The last of his kind spared from the fate that every other Kryptonian had been forced by circumstance to share. He had been saved by his biological father, a man he would never meet, a man who died before the first great pyramid appeared on Earth. Clark Kent was an alien by birth, but a human by choice and upbringing. He had always been Superman, even without the title or disguise. He had used his alien powers to help others anonymously around the world. If his anonymity was ever in jeopardy, he would simply move on before too many became suspicious. This tactic had served him well until his travels landed him in Metropolis. Whether it was the city itself, or the woman with whom he now shared a byline, was uncertain, but this was now his home.
His human mother had constructed his now famous costume of blue and red. A costume which protected Clark Kent's privacy while at the same time granting him the freedom to appear in public to help those who needed his unique talents. He was Superman, named by Lois Lane, and adored by her as well. This was the only painful aspect of his masquerade. Lois Lane, a woman he had come to love so deeply that he did not even have a frame of reference with which to gage this new, and unknown emotion. He had never truly been in love before, and he knew it was not just a consequence of his wanderlust. Even in school when his classmates had entangled themselves with a significant other, no matter how fleeting, Clark could never relate to their mysterious feelings. He knew he loved his parents, but that other type of love his classmates extolled was completely alien. He began to believe that his powers were a tradeoff for the ability to experience love. This had never really troubled him since it was impossible to miss something he never had. This sublime complacency, however, was utterly destroyed within hours after meeting Lois Lane.
Lois Lane, though quite beautiful, was not the most beautiful woman Clark had ever met in his world travels. He knew her looks alone had not awakened this feeling in him. A feeling he had dismissed long ago as unattainable, but shortly after his first meeting with Lois, he understood everything in one frightening jolt. He understood why people wrote and read romance novels, why Shakespeare penned love sonnets, even why Vincent van Gogh severed an ear. He had discovered a terror called love.
This terror had created such an emptiness of longing that Clark would, on occasion, press the advantage of his Superman persona. He knew it was wrong, and that it generally helped undermine his chances of having Lois love him as Clark, but he knew he could be close to Lois as Superman, he could touch her, hold her, and share an all too infrequent kiss. This had become the routine, and though it was ultimately unsatisfying for both of them, it curiously filled a void they both shared. This situation might have remained unaltered for years had Perry not decided to make them partners.
This partnership, vehemently protested by Lois in the beginning, had actually drawn them closer together. It made them the best of friends, and though Lois never thought that she'd ever have Clark, or any man, as a best friend, he was precisely that. Their friendship became quite warm and pleasant. They confided their secrets and hopes to one another, with one or two notable exceptions, and began to enjoy each others company in a sociable kind of way. Clark at least came to believe that a foundation for love was being established. All seemed to be going well until a shadow passed between them.
Lex Luthor, the third or fourth wealthiest person in the world, shared only one thing with Clark Kent. He loved Lois Lane. Though a villain and criminal by anyone's interpretation, Lex was also smart. He didn't end up owning over half of Metropolis by being careless. He either covered his tracks, or found some poor lackey to take the fall, even murder was not beyond his absent conscience. To the world at large he was the very balance of money and altruism. He gave generously to charities and employed thousands of people. He was loved and admired by just about everyone. Everyone but Clark Kent.
Clark discovered the true measure of Lex Luthor shortly after their first meeting. Luthor pressed the sword of Alexander the Great to Kent's throat, and though he made no threat in conjunction with his actions, the intent was clear. Clark, having no need to fear any sword, did not flinch. Whether Clark's boldness had impressed, or angered Luthor, is unclear, but Luthor demurred and handed the sword to Clark. The bad chemistry between the two had been mixed. They knew where they stood with each other. Luthor would shortly become the first person Clark ever genuinely hated.
Luthor became a more and more frequent part of Lois Lane's life. He took her to places that Clark Kent could scarcely afford, and as her best friend, he would not be likely do so even if he could afford such extravagance. This unpleasant alliance finally came to its inevitable turning point. Lex Luthor asked Lois Lane to marry him. Lois, though fond of Lex, and a great admirer, did not love him, but she felt Luthor's proposal had forced her hand. Lois, like the toucan which will not swallow a berry in its bill until it sees another one available, gave Lex a firm maybe.
Lois Lane now felt compelled to find out where she stood with Superman. The only man she truly loved. She made the mistake of confiding in her best friend about Luthor's proposal, this in turn forced Clark's hand. He told Lois that he had loved her for a long time. Lois was nearly as astonished by Clark's confession, as she had been by Luthor's proposal. Though flattered, she told Clark that she only loved him as a friend. A sentiment which probably broke more hearts than any machinations of Casanova and Don Juan combined. She then twisted the knife by asking Clark to contact Superman for her.
Clark granted her request, and put in an appearance as Superman. He entered her apartment through a side window, and stood a moment behind her in stony silence. Lois felt his presence. When she confronted him with her feelings, Clark was as unflinching as he had been with the sword pointed at his throat. He could not separate the hurt he felt as Clark, from the need to keep Lois away from someone as dangerous as Lex Luthor. The telling blow for Clark came when Lois confessed she would love him even if he were just a regular guy. Having been rejected by Lois earlier in the day, as just a regular guy, Clark curtly expressed his doubts regarding Lois' sincerity, and vanished without another word. Lois Lane's world began to crash down around her.
The only man she loved, did not share her feelings. Her best friend was now an injured party whom she could no longer confide in, and the Daily Planet itself was literally blown apart by a hidden bomb. Her young co-worker, Jack, whom Clark had rescued from the streets, was arrested as the culprit. With the Planet gone, the rest of Lois' support system had vanished. All roads now led to Lex Luthor.
Luthor had become an opportunistic virus infecting Lois through a wound in her soul. She turned to Luthor, not because she loved him, but because he was all she had left. She accepted his proposal, and though Clark, having rethought the awkward position in which he had placed Lois, tried to find her and make the Beau Geste as Superman, he was too late. Hearing her accept the proposal, and seal it with a kiss, was too much even for a man of steel. He flew to an Arctic wilderness and cried out in sorrow. Even Kryptonite, Superman's bane, had never inflicted such pain.
But these events had transpired and resolved themselves months ago. Lois had left Luthor at the altar by saying I can't instead of I do, and Luthor, scarcely able to react to Lois' treason, found his wedding being raided by Inspector Henderson and Metropolis' finest. His complicity in the Daily Planet's bankruptcy and bombing, brought to light by Lois' former co-workers' private investigation, had put an end to his altruistic public face. Having no other avenue, Luthor faked his death in a dramatic high dive from his penthouse balcony. This perfidy did not spare Luthor for very long. He was now in jail, and though hardly helpless from this vantage, his greatest power base of respectability, had been permanently stripped away.
Clark, in the wake of these events, had recanted his love for Lois Lane. He had not done so to hurt her, but rather he did so in an attempt to re-establish their friendship. If he could not have her in any other capacity, this would have to suffice, because he could no longer live without her in his life. Lois, having put the first hole in Luthor's wedding day balloon, accepted Clark's refutation, but never told him that she had refused Luthor because her feelings for her best friend had escalated during their separation. A miss, it seems, is as good as a mile, and perhaps Lois and Clark's relationship would have been started back at square one, except that in a vulnerable moment, Clark had confessed his feelings for Lois to Perry White.
Perry faced his two star reporters and smiled. He raised his arms in a manner Lois and Clark knew as his big story posture. "This is it, kids," he paused for effect.
"The single most important story just fell out of the sky, and onto the desk of yours truly."
"Does this mean we'll find Elvis sitting on your desk?" Lois remarked dryly.
Perry kept his good humor. "Don't I wish. Actually," he began, and removed an audio tape from his coat pocket. "I have a recording from one of my eyes in South America. It seems, boys and girls, that American tourists are vanishing right off the map in a remote area known loosely as Espaqa del Sur."
Clark raised his hand, "I'm vaguely familiar with that area, Chief. I never actually went there, but a missionary told me about it. He said it just seemed to be a collection of beautiful little villages not frequented by tourists."
"Well, Kent," Perry shrugged. "It seems things have changed a little since your last visit."
"What's this have to do with us, Chief?"
"I'm glad you asked, Lois." Perry smiled. "I need you and Kent to head down there posing as American tourists."
Lois rolled her eyes. "Come on, Chief, you've got to be kidding! I've never heard anything about tourists disappearing."
"Nobody heard about Watergate either, Lois, until two intrepid reporters let the world in on it."
Lois sighed, she had heard this speech before. "This just sounds like one of those run-around stories. Clark and I will come back with sunburns and no headline. Isn't there an alternative?" "There's always alternatives, Lois. Centennial Park will be hosting the annual Metropolis dog show this week. You and Kent could give me gavel to gavel coverage."
"It's either Espaqa del Sur, or grooming tips from a poodle stylist. "He held up two plane tickets. "Which will it be?"
Lois walked over to Perry and grabbed the tickets and then turned to face Clark, "I suppose you can speak Spanish."
Clark smiled as he rose from his chair. "Por supuesto." He said, and took Lois' arm. "We'd better get packed."
"Like we have a choice."
Jimmy Olsen leaned forward. "Chief, aren't you going to send a photographer along?"
"Sorry, Jimmy. Since Lois and Clark will be posing as tourists, they'll already have cameras."
Jimmy sighed and slumped back into his chair. Perry turned to Lois and Clark. "Okay, kids, if you don't have any more questions, you'd better get cracking." Clark ushered Lois out of the room preventing her from delivering one of her famous parting shots. Perry smiled broadly as he watched them leave. He took his evidence tape and placed it into a cassette player. After a moment the king of rock and roll was singing Jailhouse Rock.
Jimmy shot a quizzical glance at Jack, and then turned back to Perry. "You're informant sounds a lot like Elvis, Chief."
Perry laughed loudly. "There is no informant, Jimmy. In fact, as far as I know, there aren't any tourists disappearing in South America either."
"Kent and Lois were losing a little bit of their edge. They've been walking on eggshells since the Luthor thing. They both had vacation time coming, so—"
"Why not just tell them to take a vacation?"
"Jimmy," Perry frowned. "How could I get them to take a vacation together?"
Jimmy shrugged. "Why do you want them to take a vacation together?"
Jack tapped Jimmy on the arm. "Don't you get it? The chief wants them to…you know." He said, and emphasized his words by raising and lowering his eyebrows.
Jimmy blushed. "Lois and C.K.!"
"Look, Jimmy, those two kids hurt each other pretty bad a couple of months ago. They recouped their friendship, but they're trying too hard to protect it. They aren't moving forward. They've stopped taking chances." Perry turned off the tape. "They're stagnating."
"But how can you be sure South America will fix things between them?"
"I can't," Perry smiled. "But never underestimate the power of a star filled sky on a warm tropical night, Jimmy."
Lois and Clark had only exchanged a few bits of safe conversation during their long flight. Both still so fearful of saying the wrong thing that they said very little of anything. The warm moist wind ruffled the collar and sleeves of Lois' blouse as she surveyed the old airfield. "This place looks like it hasn't been used much since World War II."
"I agree." Clark said, and noted the heat distortion rising from the runway. "Perry made us reservations in Espaqa, so we'd better rent a car and head that way. We can get an early dinner and then try and map out some kind of strategy for this vanishing American story."
"Okay," Lois said as she and Clark approached a small car rental kiosk. "But I still don't think there's anything to this tourist story."
Clark smiled. "You could have stayed back in Metropolis and interviewed Fido."
Lois turned sharply and faced Clark, her expression fiery and combative. She raised an index finger and then— nothing. The fire drained from her face, and she forced a smile. "You're right, Clark," she said, and continued walking.
Clark sighed and lowered his head. Lois was still trying too hard, being too careful. Their friendship, though mended, was still not firing in the proper sequence. He did not know what it would take to give Lois back her fire, but he knew he would keep trying. In the meantime he would stay focused on the task at hand. He began conversing in Spanish with the elderly rental clerk.
Lois leaned against the kiosk and looked in the small make-up mirror she had removed from her purse. "Ah, my hair is frizzing nicely."
"I'm afraid I've got worse news than that, Lois."
Lois snapped the mirror shut. "What do you mean?"
Clark's response was unnecessary. At that moment a thin, bald man walked a motorcycle around to the front of the kiosk. Lois shook her head. "You're joking, right?"
"Sorry, Lois, this is all they have. They don't get many tourists here."
Lois leaned her head into the kiosk. "Listen, we need a car. We can't transport our luggage on a—"
Clark began to translate for Lois, but the old man waved his hands. "I understand English, Seqor. The pilot's car will be back in a couple of hours. He can take your luggage into town and deliver it to your hotel."
Lois swept her hair back. "You don't even know what hotel we're registered in!"
The old man smiled. "There is only one hotel in Espaqa, Seqora Kent."
"I guess that cuts down on the…Seqora Kent?"
"That's right, honey." Clark said quickly and placed his arm around Lois' shoulders. "Seqora means Mrs. in Spanish." He kissed her cheek and whispered, "Perry has us traveling as a married couple."
"Thanks for the Spanish lesson … sweetheart," she said and walked to the motorcycle. She studied the machine for a moment and then raised her skirt high enough so that she could easily straddle the seat. The three men craned their necks for a better look.
Clark, as the husband, felt obligated to look reprovingly at the other two gentlemen, but in his heart, he felt exactly the same motivation. He grabbed his small gym bag and mounted the motorcycle.
"Hey!" Lois protested. "How come you get to drive?"
Clark removed his wallet from his jacket and showed Lois his motorcycle operator's license. Lois pushed the evidence away. "A technicality."
Clark smiled and started the engine. She was beginning to sound more like the Lois he knew and loved. He turned the cycle onto a small clay road and headed for Espaqa. As the road became bumpier, he felt Lois' arms tighten around his waist. He was always amazed at how attuned his body was to her touch. High velocity bullets bounced off of his chest and gave him no sensation of feeling, but Lois could merely brush against him, and he felt her more intensely than a human man would have in the same circumstance. He wondered if it was some part of his Kryptonian genetics which drew him to Lois, bonded him to her. He had no other explanation for this curious sensation, and though their relationship had been more frustrating than fulfilling, Clark persisted. He was not a hopeless romantic, merely a hopeful one.
Clark leaned the cycle to make the cut-off onto the Sobrehumano Carretera, a small paved highway which served as the homestretch to Espaqa. The scenery along the highway was breathtaking. Coffee plantations carved out of the jungle were framed by violet mountains jutting up from the horizon. The prevailing breeze carried the scent of a distant spice farm. Clark felt Lois' head lean against his back, and felt her arms relax. He knew she was exhausted. He took his left hand and held both of hers so that she would not lose her grip around his waist. As the highway began to descend, Clark could see Espaqa del Sur spread out beneath him. It was, as the missionary had described it, a beautiful series of charming villages connected by a common highway. He slowed the cycle and read the roadsigns. He then used his telescopic vision and was able to zero in on the only hotel in all of Espaqa, the Consuelo.
Clark made good time traveling the narrow deserted streets. He pulled into the forecourt of the Consuelo and tapped Lois' hands. "We're here."
Lois straightened her back with a moan. "This place must not be too far from the airstrip."
Clark shrugged as he helped her from the motorcycle. "About seven miles I'd guess." He put a supportive arm around her waist and retrieved her purse and the gym bag from the sissy bar. "Maybe we should just order dinner in, and get some rest before we map out any strategies."
"Mmm," Lois smiled. "I'll soak in a tub for an hour."
"Sounds good, I think I'll join you." Clark blushed, "I mean—"
Lois laughed and patted Clark on the back. "I know what you mean." Whether her response was one of her safe answers, or a genuine expression of her feelings, Clark could not tell, but at least it seemed real for a change. They entered the lobby, registered as Mr. and Mrs. Kent, took their room key and stepped into the tiny elevator. Lois leaned heavily against the wall, "I'm so tired."
Clark brushed a strand of windblown hair from her cheek. "It was a long trip."
"You seem to be doing all right."
Clark smiled as they exited the elevator. "I've done a lot of flying, Lois."
Lois yawned as she watched Clark pull out the room key. She felt out of phase, and displaced. It was the worst jet lag she could ever remember experiencing. As she stepped into the room, the air-conditioning slightly rejuvenated her. "I'll say this for Perry," she said as she took a panoramic view of the spacious accommodations. "He sure knows how to make hotel reservations."
Clark tossed the keys onto a glass-topped table. "It's beautiful. There's a great view of the mountains."
"No offense, Clark, but I don't think I'll be in the mood to enjoy the view until after my bath."
"Okay," Clark smiled, but felt he heard a bit of Lois' careful tone making a comeback. "While you're in the tub I'll order room service. Any particular dinner in mind?"
"Something light, and plenty of it," she said, and closed the bathroom door.
Clark shook his head as he picked up the phone. Lois' dinner order sounded as contradictory as Lois herself. He ordered a light buffet and then walked to the large picture window. He raised his arms above his head and leaned against the glass. An enclosed courtyard and garden could be seen directly below the window. It was obviously an architectural tribute to Spain. Clark realized he should be laying some type of groundwork for the assignment, but the intoxicating beauty of the scenery, and the dangerously close proximity of Lois Lane made concentrating on work impossible.
He sighed and pushed himself away from the window. He dropped heavily onto an overstuffed sofa and opened his gym bag. He took out a pad and pencil and stared at them as if he had never seen either object before and had no clue as to their function. After a couple of minutes of this stare- down, he declare the pad and pencil the victors and tossed them onto the table. He decided to wait for Lois. Perhaps her concentration was more unflappable than his. "Maybe if I lay down and rest a while," he whispered. He removed his tie, but before he could progress any further, someone knocked at the door. Clark lowered his glasses and looked through the wall. A man dressed in a khaki uniform stood in the hallway surrounded by luggage.
Clark shrugged and opened the door. "I wasn't expecting the luggage for at least another hour. thanks for bringing it by." Clark studied the man's face. "But I thought the pilot would be bringing it by."
"I was your pilot, Mr. Kent," he said as he helped Clark shuttle the bags into the room. He patted Clark on the arm. "Maybe you need a stronger prescription for your glasses," he laughed, and then exited the room quickly. Clark might have dwelt on the matter longer, but he heard the bathroom door open.
"I heard someone knock at the door. I guess I'm jumpy about the idea of tourists disappearing, and I know the dinner couldn't have gotten here that fast."
Clark turned, and though he had fully intended to say something, he could do nothing but stare. Lois, her hair wet at the tips, stood in front of him wearing a hotel robe so short that it barely covered the essentials. She made a diminutive shrug, knowing that a normal shrug would have elevated her robe beyond a point of mystery. "I can't believe how short this stupid robe is! It must be meant for a kid."
Clark, still transfixed, mumbled something about the luggage. Lois smiled, "Thank, God. I can get out of this thing, and into some clean clothes after my soak. Would you put my suitcase in the bathroom, Clark. I better not bend over in this thing."
"Sure," he said, but his voice came out as a dry whisper.
"Thanks, Clark." Lois smiled as she brushed up against him in the narrow doorway. The small robe gaped slightly at the top, obviously not designed to accommodate Lois' rather copious chest measurement.
As Lois closed the door, the image burned itself into Clark's mind. In fact, he felt as if he were burning all over. He could not recall ever having an anxiety attack before, however the conflict between wanting to respect Lois as a friend and colleague while at the same time desiring to put his hands on every square inch of her body, gave Clark an anxiety attack of Freudian proportions. Not knowing what else to do, he opened the large window and flew up into the deepening purple sky. He drifted higher and higher until the air became dangerously thin. He suspended himself there, like a prophet caught between heaven and earth, he positioned himself between atmosphere and the void of space. After a while the lack of oxygen began to make him drowsy, and thus relaxed him. It was an odd solution, but somehow befitting a super man. He descended back to earth and back into the hotel suite. Lois re-entered the room just as he began shutting the window. "Where have you been?"
"The waiter came with the dinner and was knocking and knocking, so I had to come out and open the door."
It was only at this moment that Clark noticed the dinner tray. "Sorry, Lois, I had a call of nature."
Lois nodded, "I knew I was taking too long in the bathroom."
Clark pulled a chair out for her. "Looks like a nice buffet."
"I don't know about the buffet, but this iced punch drink is wonderful."
Clark sniffed the pitcher. "It ought to be. It smells like its laced."
Lois smiled, her eyes a bit glazed, "I don't doubt it. I feel pretty good."
"Maybe you should have something to eat now, make a cushion for that punch."
Lois laughed. "Yes, Mother."
Clark piled a couple of different meats and cheeses onto a thin wafer of bread and handed it to Lois. She examined the offering from various angles and then looked back at Clark. "Don't I get fries with this?" Before Clark could respond, Lois reeled from her chair and fell to the floor. He raced around the table and lifted her up and carried her to the bed. She was out cold, and Clark might have attributed her condition to alcohol had it not been for the fact that the pitcher was still nearly full. Lois could not have had more than one glass of the punch, and yet she went from zero to blackout in less than five minutes.
Clark approached the table and took a sip of Lois' punch, but could detect nothing but a fruit flavoring with a slight alcohol aftertaste. He looked up from the table as he heard the elevator ring outside. He looked through the wall and saw two men in military clothing holding field protective masks.
"Are you sure they're out?" The shorter of the two asked.
"We pumped enough gas in there to make Godzilla take a nap with his shoes on," the other said, and the two men began donning their masks.
Clark leaped onto the sofa and feigned unconsciousness as the men entered the room. They both looked around, and the taller man shrugged. "What did I tell, ya? Out cold."
The other man nodded. "Do we turn the luggage?"
"Negative. We did that before it was delivered here. We're looking for the lady's purse and a small…here it is," he said, and opened the gym bag. He pawed through the contents and then zipped it closed.
"Bingo," the short man said, and opened Lois' purse.
The other nodded and then thumbed through the pad on the table. Satisfied that nothing was written, he put it back and then reached inside Clark's jacket and removed his wallet. He searched through the sleeves and then held the wallet over his head. "Clark Kent. Reporter for the Daily Planet."
The short man flashed Lois' wallet. "Lois Lane. Same paper." He closed the wallet and put it back in the purse. "What do we do now?"
"We report back. No more, and no less. So far they could be just what they look like. A couple of co-workers out for a hot time together."
The short man shrugged. "And if they're not?"
"All procedure, boy. For now we cut off the gas, and report back. They'll be watched," he said, and left the room with his companion.
Clark watched until the two entered the elevator and then opened the window to help dissipate the gas. He walked into the bathroom and retrieved a damp cloth and began dabbing Lois' temples. Lois moaned, "I think I'll go for the cliche. Where am I?"
"Well," Clark smiled. "You were way over the rainbow, Dorothy."
"Huh…oh yeah, that killer fruit punch."
Clark touched her shoulder. "It wasn't the punch, Lois. Some type of gas was filtered in through the air- conditioner."
Lois propped herself up on an elbow and held the cloth to her forehead.
"Now who's in Munchkin Land?"
"I'm serious, Lois. I must have had…a bad reaction to the gas. I opened the window to get some fresh air, and then I heard someone breaking in."
"I jumped on the couch and pretended to be asleep. Two guys in military uniforms came in wearing gas masks. They rifled our stuff." Clark lowered his voice. "Lois, they know who we are and who we work for."
"Oh, God, Clark! Perry must be right." Lois pulled the cloth away. "Did they say what they were going to do? About us, I mean."
"For now, anyway, they said they'd be keeping an eye on us, but their current theory about us is," Clark cleared his throat. "That we're just co-workers having a hot time together."
Lois rolled her eyes and dropped her head back on the pillow. "Naturally."
"It's a good front, Lois. If we can do the tourist bit in front of them, they'll get bored and—"
"They'll get bored!"
"They'll get bored and lose interest. When that happens, we can watch them."
Lois smiled admiringly. "Now that's Planet thinking, Mr. Kent. I'm proud of you."
"Thank you, Ms. Lane," he said, and placed the cloth back on her forehead. "I learned from a master."
Lois held his had for a moment. "Thanks."
"You're welcome," he smiled. "Now we'd better get some sleep so we can be fresh in the morning for our little charade."
"Aren't we going to toss to see who gets the bed?"
"No, thanks, I never win that game."
"Well, what about 'it's a big bed, let's share'?"
Clark's mind flashed back to their honeymoon assignment in Metropolis. He remembered using those words playfully, but he could tell by the tremble in Lois' voice, that she had not meant it that way. He sat on the edge of the bed. "Still scared?"
She nodded. "A little."
"Okay," he whispered.
He went into the bathroom and changed into a sleeveless sweatshirt and a pair of shorts. Lois moved over, and Clark slipped under the covers. She draped her arm over him and rested her head on his chest.
"Anytime," he said, and stroked her hair. He wondered if she knew how painful this was for him, or was he simply filling in for the teddy bear she snuggled with back in Metropolis. He folded his arms around her and closed his eyes. She was sleeping in the arms of the most powerful being on Earth and did not know it, and yet the notion that she felt safe and comforted in the arms of her human best friend, made Clark smile.
Early the next morning, Lois and Clark made themselves busy at the job of being tourists. They took each others picture in front of an old church, hiked up a hill, went horseback riding, and spread out a picnic lunch under a huge tree in an open field. The repast was composed mainly of the buffet left-overs, but they had fun and Clark enjoyed seeing Lois relaxing and being herself for a change. He scanned the surroundings and found one of the watch dogs spying on them through a spotting scope.
"We're being watched," he whispered.
"About two hundred yards to the North."
"Two hundred yards!"
Clark shrugged, "I wouldn't have spotted him, but the sun reflected off of his telescope when he changed positions."
"Oh," Lois nodded. "Clark, what if they decide to watch us the whole time we're here? We won't get a chance to break away."
Clark thought for a moment. "In that case, we'll have to become predictable. We'll have to cook up some plan where they'll expect us to go back to our hotel for some given reason. Become so routine about it, that they won't bother even following us back to the hotel."
"I don't know. Maybe making a habit of having dinner at the hotel."
Lois shook her head. "That's too iffy. They might think that even if we ate at the hotel five nights in a row, there'd still be a chance that we'd go out to dinner on one night."
"Do you have a better idea?"
"Maybe," Lois smiled. "Didn't you overhear one of those guys saying that they thought we were here for a hot time?"
"Perfect." Lois put her arms around Clark's neck. "Just suppose, Clark, that you had the job of spying on a couple," she said, and kissed him. "What would you think if every time you saw this couple, they started making out?" She kissed him again. "Lastly, what conclusion would you draw if every time they started making out hot and heavy, they made a beeline back to their hotel room?"
Clark smiled, "I'd assume they had an urgent need for privacy." He pulled Lois close and experienced the best afternoon he could recall outside of the afternoon he learned to fly.
After rolling around in Malvado park, they hopped onto the motorcycle and returned to their hotel. The next two days they repeated the scenario in different locations to make the romance look spontaneous. Each day they put on their play a bit later in the afternoon. On the third day, it was approaching sunset as they enjoyed an early supper at a small cantina.
Clark took a sip of tea. "So where do we put on the show today?"
"Why not right here?"
Clark raised his eyebrows. "Here, in the cantina?"
Lois moved to Clark's lap, kissed him, and then moved her mouth next to his ear. "Never sell a slow dance short, Clark," she whispered. "Besides, their jukebox has my favorite slow dance song." Clark rose from his chair as Lois made her selection on the jukebox. He was dubious of the effect that could be achieved by merely dancing, and disappointed that they would be standing, but as Take My Breath Away began to play, Clark pulled Lois to him, and they began to dance.
Lois kissed his neck, "I think we should make our move tonight."
Clark locked his arms behind the small of Lois' back and pressed her closer. "Those old building outside of town?"
"Yes," she whispered and kissed Clark in a manner as yet unexplored by their make-believe romance. Clark felt his legs weaken. Under other circumstances this would be a frightening occurrence for Superman. On this occasion, however, it was only natural.
Watching I keep waiting, still anticipating love.
Clark returned the kiss, and felt Lois' heart rate increase. She laced her fingers at the back of his neck, and intensified the kiss.
When the mirror crashed I called you, and turned to hear you say, "If only for today, I am unafraid." Take my breath away.
The prying eyes watching the couple in the darkened cantina were more than convinced of the romance. More importantly, Lois and Clark were beginning to convince each other.
Watching every motion in this foolish lover's game Haunted by a notion somewhere there's a love in flames
Lois pulled herself away slightly. "Are you ready?"
Watchin' in slow motion as you turn my way and say, "Take my breath away."
Clark kissed her, and nodded. They exited the cantina with their arms around each others waists. They stepped into the warm air perfumed by the spice farm. Clark kissed her again. "Just in case." He smiled.
Lois returned the smile. "Good thinking."
They boarded the motorcycle and headed up the road that normally lead to their hotel, but they bypassed the turn off and headed out of town. The scent of spice grew heavier as they passed the little farm. Lois slowly rubbed her hand across Clark's abdomen, and it was all he could do to keep the motorcycle on the road. He was grateful to finally spot the deserted warehouse buildings and shut off the engine. He trotted to the tall chain link fence surrounding the compound of buildings. He scanned them with his x-ray vision, and they all appeared fairly similar; deserted except for a few boxes and crates. He was about to survey the crates when Lois caught up to him.
"What do you think?"
"I think we'll have to find a break in this fence if we hope to get in. They've got concertina tape strung across the top."
"Okay," she nodded. "I'll check down this way."
"Good. I'll backtrack the line up this way," he said, and waited till she had moved several meters away and then ripped a portion of the fence away from its post. He tapped his hand on the fence and signaled her to return. As she approached he opened the gap in the fence. After she entered, he followed her through, and then pulled the section of fence shut. "Now what?" he asked, and tried to sound winded.
"I guess we break into one of these buildings, if we can," she said, and groaned with effort as she tried turning a doorknob. "Locked." "I don't know, Lois, these buildings are pretty old, it could just be swollen shut," he said, and leaned against the door. "You turn the knob, and I'll push." With little effort, Clark forced the door open. They stepped inside and closed the door.
The warehouse was dark except for a very small amount of moonlight filtering though the large, broken skylight. Lois could see a light patch on the floor and knelt down. "Packing material. A ton of it. They unpacked something recently."
Clark x-rayed the remaining crates. They were filled mainly with camping equipment and non-perishable food supplies. "Excelsior?"
"Good," Clark said, and sat on the packing material and leaned his back against a crate. "You're right, it's much softer."
"Cute, Kent," she said and sniffed a bit of the material. "Cosmoline."
"It's a packing grease usually used with firearms."
Clark smiled. "I'm impressed, Lois."
"It's not such a big deal," she shrugged. "It's also used in heavy cosmetics, you know, the type Cat has to wear to conceal her age. Not that it works."
"Just kidding. I had to cover a gun smuggling story a couple of years ago." She settled on the floor next to Clark. "Some ninety day wonder second lieutenant bit my head off for calling it oil. After that, I never forgot the word cosmoline."
"So they're into gun smuggling."
"I think it goes deeper than that, Clark. Gun runners would just have gotten rid of us if they were suspicious. This bunch, from the looks of things, are well organized and well financed."
"Maybe, but not the weekend warrior type." Lois lowered her voice. "I actually have a sick feeling it's—"
"I hate to think that, but the enormous amount of money involved points to power."
"Too bad Luthor is in jail or he'd—" Clark stopped himself instantly, but not soon enough. He had mentioned Lex Luthor. "I'm sorry, Lois."
"Clark," she sighed. "Maybe this is the right time to talk about Lex."
"Lois, I didn't—"
"I want to, and I don't think things will ever be clear between us, until I do. Okay?"
Lois leaned against Clark's arm. "Even before I turned Lex down at the altar, I knew I didn't love him. As funny as it sounds now, I admired him, and after everything happened with the Planet, you, and Superman," she sighed again. "He was all I had left."
"Lois, you could have come to me."
"Right," Lois laughed softly. "After I hurt you?"
"We could have worked through it, Lois. You were hurt too."
"By Superman, Clark, not by you." Lois shook her head. "He was so cold."
Clark's face began to burn. He was grateful for the darkness. "Maybe he had a reason."
"A reason! Look, Clark, he started the conversation by making me feel cheap, and then it went downhill from there."
"He didn't call you cheap."
"I didn't say he called me cheap. I said he made me feel cheap." Lois pulled away from Clark. "Whose side are you on anyway?"
"Sorry, you're right, Lois." Clark took a deep breath and tried to rein in his emotions. "How did he make you feel cheap?" , "He came to my apartment when I was dressed for bed. I said I would put on a robe." Her voice caught for a moment. "He told me that unless it was lined with lead, that I needn't bother."
Clark lowered his head. He had not realized how cruel he had been until he heard her repeat his words. "I see your point."
"He made it sound like he could and had taken advantage of me whenever it pleased him."
"I'd hate to think that, Lois."
"Me too." Lois nodded. "In fact I kind of pushed it aside, thinking I must have misunderstood him. He never acted that way before. Anyway, I told him that I loved him, and that I would love him even if he were just a regular guy with no special powers."
Clark's jaw tensed. He remembered how hypocritical her statement had felt the first time she had said those words to him as Superman, and they felt no less hypocritical now. "And?"
"He said he doubted it, and flew away. That's about it."
"Well," Clark paused for a moment, wanting to word his sentence carefully. "I guess you've never told me why you loved Superman. Maybe he was like a lot of us, and thought his powers were all that attracted you to him."
"Is that what you thought too, Clark."
"Yes," he said bluntly. Still smarting from the retelling.
Lois leaned against the crate and stared at the skylight. "I guess that's why people thought I was marrying Lex. All that money and power." She laughed. "For your, and everybody else's information, I loved Superman because he made me feel special." She patted Clark on the shoulder. "Not that you didn't, Clark, but unlike you, Superman was never—" Lois broke off her statement.
Clark leaned forward. "Never what, Lois?"
"Don't take this the wrong way Clark, but Superman was never judgmental like you."
Clark bristled. "Judgmental! How was I ever judgmental?"
"Do you remember saying, 'that's not how you spell aquifer, Lois', or 'that should be a spokesperson for the FBI, Lois'. I know that you said those things to help out my spelling and grammar, but Clark," she said softly. "When you correct me, but don't tell me what you think about the piece as a whole, or what I did right, you sound like my dad. It just comes across as criticism."
Clark felt the blood pounding in his ears. He was beginning to realize a truth that he was afraid to acknowledge, but he had to find out. "And Superman?"
She smiled, but being unaffected by the darkness, Clark saw tears glistening in her eyes. "He said, 'you'll always be special to me, Lois'. 'You don't have to bid for my attention, Lois'. He made me feel so special," she sighed. "I won't ever forget the day he mentioned one of my articles, the one you and Perry edited to death. When I asked him if he read my stuff, he broke into this big smile and said 'always'." She began to cry.
"Oh, God," Clark whispered, and pulled Lois to him. "I'm so sorry, Lois." In an instant Clark had learned the truth. Lois had been far from hypocritical. She had been completely honest. She saw Clark and Superman as two separate entities, and Clark had no one else but himself to blame. It had been his intention from the beginning to make Clark and Superman different from each other— separate. He had become a victim of his own success, and then blamed Lois for it, and worse still, he had willing romanced her as Superman in order to be close to her. He felt sick inside. He had made Lois suffer humiliation, grief and loneliness, all because she was being loyal to the man she loved.
Lois sniffed and began wiping her tears away. "You don't have to apologize, Clark. Besides, I never did have a good cry over this, and now I have."
Not knowing what else to say, Clark pressed his mouth to hers, she responded, but then, quite abruptly, she pulled away. "I saw When Harry Met Sally, Clark. Harry starts comforting Sally when she's upset, they start kissing and then they get carried away and make love to each other."
"And then, the next morning, they feel guilty and different about each other."
Lois nodded. "It ruined their friendship, and Clark, I couldn't stand to lose your friendship again. It means too much to me."
Clark thought a moment. "Then let's make a deal. We try romance, and if for some reason it doesn't work out between us, we promise to keep the friendship alive."
Lois sighed, "Isn't that a little like the old cliche about when a couple breaks up, one usually says, 'let's still be friends'?"
"Let's be honest, Lois. Even if you and I never got together romantically, that would mean eventually we'd become romantically involved with other people. Right?"
"Yes…I guess so."
"I don't know about you, Lois," he said, and cradled her face in his hands. "But I wouldn't be able to take it. When you and Luthor got together, I couldn't separate our friendship from my deeper feelings for you."
"Deeper?" she whispered
"I just can't pretend that I'm not in love with you. I'm no good at it."
Lois gently grabbed the lapels of Clark's jacket and tugged. "Then stop pretending."
Clark's eyes rolled back as he felt Lois' mouth seal around his. He could taste the mint she had eaten after dinner, the wine she drank. He felt her hands slide from his jacket and move to the back of his neck. He placed a hand behind her head and gently moved downward with her. He craned his head backward for a moment and removed his glasses and set them on the floor. Lois smiled, "I wish it wasn't so dark in here. I'd like to know what you look like without your glasses."
"I'll leave them off," he whispered. "In the morning you'll have your answer. I think it's about time you knew anyway." He pressed himself against her, and once again they kissed. His mind was given over to only those things which he could perceive through his senses. The smell of spice and perfume, the softness of her hair, the taste of wine and mint, the firmness of her body, and the sound of their breath. The sound of hunger.
As daylight began to seep through the cracks of the old warehouse, and nightbirds vanished in favor of their noisier cousins, Lois began to stir. She opened her eyes and yawned. She saw Clark's arm still wrapped around her, and she smiled. This one, unlike the Frenchman from her past, had stayed. This one always would. She stretched out her hand and retrieved Clark's glassed. She was about to turn over and look at him when she heard someone rattling the handle of the sliding bay door. "Clark!" She handed his glasses back without looking at him. "Someone's coming in!"
The couple rose to their feet. Lois could feel Clark's reassuring hands on her shoulders. The door clanged open loudly. A young man armed with an M-16, hurried through the opening. His eyes darted wildly until they fixed on the couple. He raised his rifle. After a moment, an expression akin to awe, washed over his face. "What are you doing here?"
Lois heard Clark's voice behind her. "My girlfriend and I just wanted to find a quiet place to be alone. You understand."
"Really?" The young man asked, his expression shifting from awe to incredulity.
"Really." Clark said softly.
The young man smiled, and lowered the rifle. "I guess it never crossed my mind before, but hey—" he shrugged. "Why not? Have a good time."
The young man winked and began closing the door. "By the way, you've got great taste in women," he said, and gave the door one last tug.
Lois shook her head and began to turn. "What was that all—"
"I love you, Lois," said the man in the all too familiar red and blue costume.
Lois, like a computer being fed too much data, experienced a sensory overload. She fainted. Clark grabbed her before she fell, and held her in his arms. "That went better than I expected," he smiled, and drifted up through the broken skylight with Lois. Clark, making better time than the mechanical conveyance which had flown him and Lois to South America, hovered outside a window far from Espaqa del Sur, spice farms, and the warehouse where he had learned that there was in fact something more pleasurable than flying. He slid open the window and floated through. He placed Lois on a large, seldom used bed, and then exited the room. When he re-entered moments later, he carried a cool rag and was dressed again as Clark Kent. As he had in the hotel room, Clark dabbed the rag at her temples, and just as before, Lois opened her eyes and asked, "Where am I?"
"You're in a farmhouse in Kansas, Dorothy."
Lois yanked the glasses from Clark's face. "You are Superman!"
"I'm afraid so, Lois."
Lois pushed away from the bed. "I can't believe this!"
"Lois, settle down."
"Settle down? This must be a big joke to you, Kent … Superman, whoever you are."
"I'm Clark, Lois," he said softly. "And my feelings for you are no joke."
"It must be me," she said to her reflection in the dresser mirror. "Something in me attracts men hiding big fat secrets!"
"Face it, Clark, it's the truth. I almost married the biggest crook in the world and never knew it, and now I fall in love with—" She sighed loudly and lowered her head. "Lois Lane, the great investigative reporter, working side by side with Superman, and she doesn't even have a clue."
"Quit beating yourself up, Lois. Nobody at the Planet has a clue. Perry was an investigative reporter before you were born, and he doesn't know."
Lois' eyes flashed. "But he's not in love with you, Clark! I've held you, kissed you…made love to you." She lowered her voice. "What does that say about me, Clark? If that's all the better I can do as a reporter, then I'd better hand over my laptop."
The bedroom door opened wide, and Clark's father, Jonathan, leaped in brandishing a golf club. He appraised the situation immediately, and lowered the club. "Sorry, son. You're mother and I heard noises up here." Jonathan cleared his throat. "Nice to see you again, Lois."
Lois, feeling the walls closing in, did not raise her eyes. "Thank you."
Clark's mother crept around the corner and observed the ring of silence for a moment. She walked over to Lois. "Are you all right?"
Lois smiled at the floor. "Not really, Mrs. Kent … Martha."
Martha put her arm around Lois' shoulder. "Then you and I should take a little walk down to the kitchen."
"Really, Martha, I don't—"
Lois sighed with resignation. "Okay," she said, and left the room with Martha.
Clark tried to follow, but his father shook his head. "Let your mom talk to her a while, son. From what I saw, you weren't doin' so well."
"You got that right, dad." Clark said angrily, and dropped onto his bed.
Jonathan walked over and leaned against the wall. "Well?"
Clark knew what his father meant. "I told her I was Superman."
"That's pretty obvious, son. What prompted it? I thought you wanted her to be close to you as Clark, not Superman."
"I do, dad. She is." Clark closed his eyes. He felt too rattled to think clearly. "Lois and I have been getting closer for a long time now, and last night—" Clark opened his eyes and looked up at his father. "Last night we got real close."
Jonathan nodded and sat down on the edge of the bed. "You told her afterward?"
Clark rolled up onto his elbow. "I had to, dad! I couldn't lie to her anymore."
"So she's mad at you for keeping the secret from her so long?"
"No, but give her time."
Jonathan laughed. "Then what's she so head up about?"
"This whole thing has made her doubt herself."
"I don't follow, son."
"She still hadn't gotten over the humiliation of almost marrying the biggest crook in the world, and then I tell her I'm Superman."
"I gotcha. She wonders if she's worth her water as a reporter."
"Well, son, when she cools off she'll realize that Luthor had everyone fooled," he patted Clark on the shoulder. "And so does Superman."
Clark shook his head. "Lois isn't everyone, dad. She thinks that because she's this red hot investigative journalist, she doesn't have the right to be as fallible as everybody else."
"She'll take life a whole lot easier when she accepts the fact that she's not perfect."
"I know that, dad." Clark smiled. "But she's awfully close."
Jonathan laughed. "You'll patch this things up, son."
Clark tapped the golf club. "Taking up the sport, dad?"
"I found this in the field. I figured I'd hold onto it in case somebody came lookin' for it." He said, and leaned the club in the corner. "And don't go changing the subject, Clark Kent. I swear you learned that from your mother."
Clark laughed. "I wasn't changing the subject, dad. I want Lois and I to patch things up, but I learned some things about myself that made me feel like maybe she'd be better off without me."
"Well!" Jonathan raised his eyebrows. "That's far cry from the Clark Kent of a few months ago who thought he'd be better off without her."
"I know," he sighed. "But I found out that I hurt her a lot more than she hurt me. God, dad, I almost let her marry Luthor because my feelings were hurt."
"She's a grown woman son. You can't dictate—"
"She didn't know him, dad! The minute she became suspicious of him, what would happen to her?"
Jonathan nodded. "It wouldn't have been too pretty, son. I'll grant you that."
"I just don't feel like I have my head on straight when I'm with her."
"That's exactly how I felt about your mother in the beginning."
Clark looked at his dad. "Does it ever get any easier?"
Jonathan laughed. "I gets better, son. Easier is a relative word, especially when you'll have to deal with her as Clark and Superman. Not many women could handle that."
"Just one," Lois said, as she re-entered the room. "Clark, can we talk?"
Jonathan stood up. "Well, I've got a hay bailer I promised to help fix." He nodded to Lois, and left the room. She closed the door.
"Your mom talked to me about her Uncle, Edwynn Goss."
"What?" Clark asked, feeling jarred by the change of subject."
Lois approached the bed. "She even showed me a picture of him. He looked just like Clark Gable."
"I know, but what does that—"
Lois sat down on the bed. "Your mom said that even though his resemblance was astounding, no one ever thought he was the real Clark Gable. You want to know why?"
Clark, still dumbfounded by the turn in the conversation, merely shrugged. "Okay, why?"
"Because no one could believe that a glamorous movie star like Clark Gable would spend part of his life planting alfalfa and go by the name of Edwynn Goss."
"I still don't see—"
"No more than anybody who might find Clark Kent's uncanny resemblance to Superman, would believe for a minute that Superman spent most of his life as—"
"A mild mannered reporter?"
"Exactly." Lois smiled and stretched out next to Clark. "Your mom's pretty amazing."
Clark put his arms around Lois. "Hey, she raised a son from another planet. You don't find moms like that in gumball machines."
"True," Lois laughed. "She also told me how in love with me you've been, and how easy it would have been for you to take advantage of me when I was so blindly in love with your Superman persona."
"I couldn't, Lois. I didn't want you for just half a night."
"I know that…now."
"And I didn't mean that lead lined robe crack either, Lois. I never took advantage of you that way."
"Forget about it, Clark. I know you were hurt." She kissed him. "Let's move forward instead of backward. Deal?"
"You know what I think we should do now?"
Clark pulled her closer. "I hope it's the same thing I'm thinking. Maybe I do have ESP."
"I think we should return to Espaqa del Sur and finish our investigation."
Clark sighed. "Scratch the ESP theory."
Several days later, Perry White propped his feet up on his desk, and admired the headline; UFO TREASURES UNCOVERED! "This is incredible Lois! Imagine finding Trask's followers in South America. What a wealth information! It's bigger than uncovering King Tut's tomb. Scientist will be cataloging this stuff for years." Perry lowered the paper. "By the way, where is Kent?"
"He said he had some family business to take care of." Which was not actually a lie. Having recovered his space ship, Clark told Lois that he would hide it where no one would ever find it.
"One of the crates was empty." Jimmy said, reading the paper over Perry's shoulder. "I wonder what was in that one?"
"Also, Chief," Lois said, wanting to change the subject. "One of Trask's youngest followers was actually a fan of Superman, and was an invaluable source in breaking this story."
"I saw your notes. I didn't quite understand the part where he talks about Superman being more of a regular guy than he thought, but I'm glad the kid was there." Perry looked at Lois for a moment. "This is the best work you and Kent have done in a long time. South America must have been inspiring."
Lois smiled. "It was incredible." She winked at Jimmy and left Perry's office.
"Wow!" Jimmy whispered. "They must have…gotten their edge back."
"That they did, Jimmy."
"Just out of curiosity, Chief. How much did their edge cost you?"
"It doesn't matter. This one story was worth the price. I will say this though," he laughed. "Buying a jukebox for the cantina was the most expensive part." He snapped his fingers. "That reminds me. Here's the money I promised you for finding out Lois' favorite slow dance tune."
Jimmy grabbed the ten dollar bill. "Real smooth!"