Author: Nan Smith PM
This is the long-delayed sequel to Pheromone, More Likely.Rated: Fiction K - English - Adventure/Romance - Chapters: 3 - Words: 79,708 - Reviews: 10 - Favs: 12 - Follows: 3 - Published: 12-14-04 - id: 2172099
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
But, of course, the evidence was all circumstantial. Without more solid proof, Luthor couldn't be connected with any of the crimes so documented. The legal staff that worked for the billionaire would see to that. The authorities might suspect, but they would be able to prove nothing without the cooperation of Luthor's subordinates, and Clark was quite sure that none of them would be willing to incriminate their boss. He understood at once why Lois hadn't taken this information to the authorities. It might have resulted in the arrests of a number of persons, but Lex Luthor would not have been among them. He would have walked away untouched, and he would then have been aware of her true loyalties. Instead, she had chosen to play a waiting game until she could find a way to tie him solidly to something major.
Closing the folder, he fastened the flap tightly, and spun quickly into his Superman outfit. It was time to take a quick cruise over to LexTower to see what he could see.
"Superman said that he thinks he knows where it's kept," Clark told his partner some half an hour later. He was standing by Lois's desk in the Daily Planet newsroom, speaking to his partner in a low tone of voice so as not to be overheard. "There's a small vault in the room where Brian has been sleeping, that's been rigged for sub-zero refrigeration. It's lead-lined, too, so it looks like he wanted to be sure Superman wasn't going to get a look at its contents."
"And, of course, he knows Superman isn't going to break and enter," Lois said. "Only this time, I think he will."
"Well, maybe not break, but certainly enter," Clark said. "That lock of hair has to be destroyed, so it looks like Superman has no alternative this time."
"Besides," Lois said, as if it clinched the matter, "the hair isn't his, either. He stole it."
"Good point. Did you look at my Luthor collection?"
Lois nodded. "Yes. Besides Leek's tapes, the rest of it is about the same as mine. Lots of circumstantial evidence, but nothing that ties him directly to anything criminal. I wonder if Superman's testimony about the time Luthor threatened him would hold up in court?"
"Superman says not. He never actually came right out and said he was responsible. He just inferred it."
"Naturally," Lois said. "Besides, it would just be a case of he said -- he said."
"Exactly. He's not going to commit himself in front of witnesses."
"I guess Leek is our only hope," Lois said. "I hope he has the good sense to stay in Lex's good graces until we can tie everything together."
"Yeah," Clark said. "So do I."
Jimmy was sitting at his desk studying his computer screen. Every now and then he shifted uncomfortably and rubbed some part or other of his anatomy. Judging from his cautious movements, Clark thought, he had acquired some bruises and sore muscles from the accident. As Clark watched, he straightened up in his chair with a slight wince. Ralph gave him a sour look.
"Sore, Olsen?" he asked.
"Yeah." Jimmy didn't look at his co-worker.
"Next time don't stop your car so suddenly," Ralph said with a trace of sarcasm.
"I didn't!" Jimmy said. "You slammed into me! If you hadn't been driving like a maniac you wouldn't have hit me!"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Ralph asked, bristling slightly.
Jimmy got painfully to his feet and faced his co-worker. "It means exactly what it sounds like. You hit me Ralph. If you hadn't been going so fast you'd have had time to stop."
"All right, break it up." Perry White was standing a few feet away, although Clark hadn't seen him approach, as his attention had been focused on the combatants. "Ralph, where's that piece you promised me on last night's city council meeting?"
"Uhh ... I haven't had time today, Chief, what with the accident."
"Then why in Elvis's name are you over here pickin' fights with Olsen? I want that article on my desk in half an hour!"
Ralph turned without a word and headed for his desk. Perry turned to Jimmy. "You okay, son?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," Jimmy said. "Sorry, Chief."
Perry didn't answer. "Better get back on that research for Lois that you said you had to do. Remember what I told you. No dashing around today. Stick to your computer."
"Yes sir," Jimmy said.
Perry nodded. He glanced around. "We've got a deadline, people! Get a move on! I have to have time to edit these things before they go to press. Eduardo! Where's that piece on the Cost Mart protest?"
Clark glanced at Lois with raised eyebrows.
"Tell you later," she said softly. "Jimmy! How's that research going?"
Jimmy had taken his seat again. Now he swiveled the chair around so he could look at her without turning his head. "I'm working on it," he reported. "I found the names of the different companies' advertising heads. I can give you a little info on the first couple of names. Their companies were the first to drop us. A friend of mine who deals with the Bank of Metropolis took a look at the records for me. He wouldn't show me anything -- I guess that would be illegal -- but he says both of them had a sudden influx of cash into their checking accounts, starting two months ago. Nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine dollars for the month, and the same amount last month and this one. Just under the amount the bank has to report to the Feds."
Lois cast a quick glance at Clark. "That's interesting."
"Isn't it?" Jimmy said. "There's also this. Both of them are driving brand new Porsches as of last month. Coincidence?"
"I doubt it," Lois said. "Keep at it, Jimmy. I think we're onto something here."
"Yeah, I think I'm seeing the pattern," Jimmy said, with unusual cynicism. "Maybe this will make the Chief feel better. I'm really worried about him."
"Why?" Clark asked.
"Haven't you seen the way he's been acting the last few days, CK? Something's wrong. I just know it."
"Well, we'll let him in on what you've found. Maybe that will help," Clark said. "Keep at it."
Jimmy nodded. "The Chief told me I could stay as long as I don't do any running around," he admitted. "I'm sort of grounded, but I can't afford to miss work, so I guess I've got the time. By the way," he added, "thanks for standing up for me this morning, Lois."
"I just told the police what I saw," Lois said.
"Yeah, but my insurance company would probably have cancelled my insurance if they'd believed Ralph," Jimmy said. "I owe you one."
"Lois, my dear, you look lovely as always." Lex Luthor was, of course, waiting for her as she stepped off the elevator that had brought her to his penthouse. Nigel St. John let her disembark first and then made his way down the thickly carpeted hallway to disappear through a door near the end. Lex, meanwhile, stepped forward and lifted her hand to his lips. Ever since the pheromone episode several months ago, he had conducted himself with a rather possessive air whenever she was in his presence, and Miranda's remark, which Clark had passed to her, always remained uneasily in the back of her mind. "The one hundred percent solution is permanent". She had never known which solution the woman had used on Lex. His possessive attitude gave her an entirely different sensation than when Clark had done it the night before. The feeling of being a highly desired object wasn't in the least flattering or even pleasant. She had a part to play, however, and she smiled warmly at him, reminding herself that the key to a convincing performance was to put oneself into the part wholeheartedly.
So she allowed him to draw her hand into the crook of his arm and lead her into his study where dinner would be served this evening.
Soft music was playing in the background, and a table sat there, covered in white linen and set with china and crystal that probably cost a small fortune.
She accepted the martini presented to her on a tray by the turbaned Hindu servant whose name, she had learned, was Asabi and walked to the French doors to look out at the lights of the city. It was something of a ritual that she had established over the past months of dating Lex. He, of course, accompanied her.
"Would you like to step out on the balcony for a few minutes?" he asked.
She nodded. "The sky is so clear tonight, I'd like to enjoy the view for a few minutes," she said.
Smiling at the implied compliment to his home, Lex opened the French windows and let her precede him out onto the balcony.
The sky tonight was still and utterly cloudless, and there was a distinct chill to the air. Lois had not removed her coat, and she leaned on the stone wall of the balcony in silence, sipping the martini and trying not to swallow the wad of gum that she concealed in one cheek. Lex also leaned on the wall at her side, smiling down at her indulgently.
At last, Lois glanced at him with a little smile. "It's so beautiful from up here," she said. "It's nice to take a little time to unwind from work, I suppose."
"I imagine that the life of an investigative reporter must be stressful," Lex said.
"I suppose it is," she said. "Still, it's the work that I love. I've wanted to be a reporter since I was in third grade. My father, of course, always wanted me to follow in his footsteps."
"He wanted you to be a doctor?" Lex said.
She nodded, turning to look out over the city again. "He told me he wouldn't pay for college unless I studied to be a doctor."
"I suppose he wanted the best for you," Lex said. "You can't blame a father for that."
"I suppose not," Lois said, "but what he didn't realize was that my idea of what was best didn't coincide with his. Instead, I applied for scholarships and worked odd jobs to finance my way through. Finally, I guess Daddy realized that I wasn't going to be a doctor no matter how hard he pushed, and he helped me through the last two years."
"I can see that not much stops you," Lex said. "But you wouldn't be the Lois Lane that I know if you weren't so independent." He glanced back at the study. "Asabi has brought the wine and the first course. Shall we go in?"
Lois smiled and turned toward the French windows that he had opened for her. This was it. She had to play this just right.
She re-entered the study ahead of him. He had just turned to close the doors when she gave an exclamation of annoyance. He glanced at her in surprise.
"Is anything wrong?"
"Oh, my antique bracelet! I think there must be something wrong with the catch. It must have fallen off on the balcony. Just a minute." She started to turn, but, as expected, he stopped her.
"Allow me," he said. He went quickly out onto the balcony and glanced around. "Ah! There it is." He bent to pick up the gold bracelet, and in the moment that he turned his back, Lois took the gum from her mouth and crammed it into the lock.
He picked up the bracelet and stepped through the doors once more. "Here you are, my dear."
"Thank you, Lex." She took the piece of jewelry and dropped it into her handbag. "I think it will be safer there for now."
"I suppose it sounds trite," Lex said, "but someone like you doesn't need jewelry to set off her beauty. And now, before I say anything more to embarrass both of us, shall we eat?"
Floating directly over LexTower, and out of sight of any possible observers, Clark watched with admiration as Lois neatly sabotaged the lock to the French windows. Keeping his super hearing trained on the conversation, he knew at once when they had finally finished the meal and Luthor pushed back his chair.
"We have just enough time to make the first act," he said. "Shall we go, my dear?"
He waited while Luthor helped Lois with her coat, and followed their progress to the elevator. The Hindu servant was moving about in the room, clearing up the dishes. Clark waited impatiently. The last thing he needed was for that butler of Luthor's, Nigel St. John, to check the windows and find Lois's sabotage. At last the sounds disappeared, and Clark approached the balcony.
No matter that Luthor saw nothing wrong with spying on others, Clark had found no evidence of spy cameras in the penthouse itself. He didn't need to worry about being observed while on his mission. The French windows opened easily, and he stepped into the darkened study. Meticulously, he removed the gum so as to leave no trace of it and threw it out into the sky toward the ocean. He had no intention of leaving any evidence of Lois's sabotage to be found by Luthor's zealous servants. Then, he glanced carefully around, x-raying the immediate area beyond the study.
The place was quiet. Wherever the butler had gone, he wasn't in evidence here. Quietly and quickly, Clark opened the study doors and made his way to the room where his brother had slept every night so far of his short life.
The room was, in many ways, like an ordinary bedroom, although the place where Brian had apparently slept was a big, glass tank, somewhat like the one in Leek's laboratory. There was an armchair positioned beside it. Clark could almost visualize Luthor sitting there, reading bedtime stories to his "son". He made a face and crossed the room toward the small closet that concealed the lead-lined vault.
Footsteps coming toward him. A glance through the door showed him Nigel St. John headed directly for Brian's "nursery". Short of hiding in the closet, which probably wasn't a good idea, since he would be trapping himself, the only other way out of the room was the window. If he left, and St. John locked the window again, it would be more difficult to get back in undetected. Then the answer hit him. He unlocked the "nursery" window, assumed a mocking expression and took his position facing the door, sitting cross-legged in the air.
The door opened. Nigel St. John stepped through. He saw Clark and stopped in his tracks.
"Master Superman," he said. "You're back early. Have you completed your task?"
Clark thrust out his lower lip. "No," he said petulantly. "I haven't even seen him today, and I got bored. I want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some milk for dinner. Then, maybe I'll go back out and hunt some more -- if I feel like it."
"Your father expects you to obey him," Nigel said, a faintly menacing tone underlying the words. "He will certainly be angry if you fail."
Clark stuck out his lip farther. "I want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich first," he repeated. "And some chocolate milk. Then I'll go out again."
"And where, Master Superman, did you hear of peanut butter and jelly, not to mention chocolate milk?" Nigel asked.
"I saw children eating them at the playground," he said, a little sulkily. "It looked good."
Nigel's expression didn't change. "Very well, Master Superman. I will fetch you chocolate milk and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich," he said, in his expressionless voice. "Be so good as to wait here."
Clark turned several aerial somersaults and stopped, head down in the air. He folded his arms and tapped his foot impatiently against the ceiling. Small flecks of plaster sifted down. Nigel glanced at him with a trace of annoyance before he turned and went out.
Clark waited until the butler had entered the elevator on his mission to procure peanut butter and jelly, then turned back toward his goal.
The lead inner lining of the safe kept him from seeing the contents, but the alarm embedded in the casing was clear to his x-ray vision. Efficiently, Clark cut the wire with his heat vision and then placed his ear to the safe's door as he twirled the dial.
It took only seconds. The door came open with a puff of icy air, and he looked within.
A plastic display box held a lock of hair. He seized it at once, removed the hair and substituted the dark curls that Lois had cut from a cheap wig that she had once used for a disguise. A small burst of heat vision, and the hair that had been the source of so much trouble turned to ash. Before he closed the safe door, he checked the inside of the safe one last time. At the back of the cavity was an innocuous metal box that a quick examination with x-ray vision showed to be lead. His suspicions instantly aroused, he appropriated it.
His super-hearing detected the arrival of the elevator, and an instant later the footsteps of Nigel St. John, returning with his requested food. Quickly, he closed the safe, spun the dial, left the closet and returned to the outer room. Hastily, he concealed the lead box down under the cushions of the room's single armchair, and when St. John opened the door, the butler-Jack-of-all-trades found him lying on his side in mid-air, his head braced on one hand.
"Your peanut butter and jelly sandwich, sir," Nigel said, expressionlessly. "Also one glass of chocolate milk."
He levitated through the air, swooped low enough to take the plate and glass, levitated ceilingward and proceeded to munch on the sandwich with gusto, all the while sitting cross-legged on nothing. He drained the glass in four swallows, polished off the remainder of the sandwich and floated downward to return the glass to the stone-faced butler.
"Thank you very much," he said politely. "That was very good. I'll be going now."
"Be sure you do as your father told you, Master Superman," Nigel said, coldly. "And don't forget your curfew."
Clark thrust his lower lip out at the butler. "Not until you leave. I don't want you to watch me."
Nigel St. John opened his mouth as if to refuse, then his jaw snapped shut. He turned smartly and left the room, slamming the door behind him.
Instantly, Clark retrieved the lead box from the chair and zipped to the window. As he was pushing the pane upward, he heard the door open slightly and knew that the butler was checking on him. He levitated casually from the floor, and floated out the window. Slowly and lazily, he turned to his stomach, gradually assumed classic flying position, waved jauntily at the man and began to gather speed. He heard the butler's muttered, "Arrogant twit," and the decisive slam as St. John shut the "nursery" window.
The street outside his apartment was quiet when Clark returned home. A block away late rush hour traffic was still bumper to bumper but Clinton Street, where his apartment was located, was fortunately not normally a route for many of the residents of Metropolis. When he had rented the place, Floyd had told him that it was the quietest street in Metropolis. While that wasn't strictly true, it actually was far less frequented than many of the city's side streets, and didn't make a good short-cut for commuters trying to bypass the more heavily traveled routes.
He walked the last block and a half to his apartment, just in case his snoopy landlord was watching again, and climbed the steps of his home, whistling softly. For an instant, his whistling stopped as his super-hearing detected sounds coming from inside, at the same time that he noticed Floyd parked in his battered Chevy in the lot by the deli, with his binoculars aimed at Clark Kent's front door. With a sinking feeling, he lowered his glasses slightly and looked inside.
Brian was sitting on his couch, his feet propped on the coffee table. The television was on, showing a Wiley Coyote vs. the roadrunner cartoon, and Brian was drinking a soda, and eating a Twinkie. The debris of several snack-food wrappers lay on the floor beside the sofa, along with four empty cans that had contained cream soda. Well, Clark thought, at least that part was true to form. His brother apparently liked junk food as much as he did.
Deliberately, he ascended the steps and put his key in the lock.
Brian turned and Clark knew he was looking to see who was coming in. He removed the key and opened the door.
"Hi," Brian said.
"Hi, Brian," Clark said. "How come you're here?"
"I didn't want to stay at Bernie's lab tonight," Brian said. "I was lonesome, so I came here."
"Oh," Clark said. "Does he know you left?"
Brian shook his head. "No. I promise I'll go back in the morning," he said, earnestly. "Bernie's nice. I like him lots better than Uncle Fabian. He's funny, and he likes me. Uncle Fabian doesn't. He never even laughs."
"I like him too," Clark said. "Bernie is a good guy and he wants to help you. Tell you what. I'll give him a call and let him know where you are, okay? That way he won't worry when he gets to the lab in the morning."
"Okay," Brian said. "I didn't want to go home. Father will be angry if he finds out that I didn't kill you, but I don't want to kill you. I like you, too."
"I'm glad of that," Clark said. He picked up the phone. "Just a minute, okay?"
Brian nodded and went back to watching the television.
Clark dialed the number that Bernard Klein had given to Superman in case of an emergency and waited, lowering his glasses to check on Floyd. His landlord had left the car and was moving closer, obviously curious to see what was happening in his apartment.
Brian glanced in the same direction. "That guy was watching me when I came in," he remarked. "Why's he so snoopy?"
"Dunno." Clark heard the phone being picked up on the other end, and Bernard Klein's voice said, "Hello?"
"Dr. Klein, this is Superman," Clark said.
"Superman?" Klein sounded surprised. "What a coincidence! I wanted to talk to you about your ... brother. Is something wrong?"
"No," Clark said. "I wanted to let you know that Brian is staying at Clark Kent's place tonight because he got lonely at the lab. I'll bring him back in the morning."
"Yes, he didn't seen too happy staying in his room at the lab," Klein said. "I'll let Security know to expect you. Anyway, I wanted to tell you that I've done some tests on the sample of Brian's tissue that you got for me earlier. It looks like I'll be able to treat him in the same way as the frogs. It should work, but there may be one small complication that I didn't expect."
"Yes. Nothing serious, but I'd like to talk to you in person, if you don't mind. It shouldn't interfere with the treatment."
"Then you think you can help him?" Clark asked.
"Oh, certainly," Dr. Klein said. "As soon as his powers fade so that his skin becomes permeable, I'll be able to administer the treatment. Brian should live a normal life span -- whatever that is for a Kryptonian."
"That's a relief," Clark said. "I'll let Brian know. I guess I'll see you in the morning, then. Good night, Dr. Klein -- and thanks."
"You're very welcome, Superman," Klein said.
Clark hung up. Brian was polishing off his sixth Twinkie and reaching for another. It was just as well that he'd gotten the economy pack, Clark decided.
"You look like you're running out," he said. "Would you like some Ding Dongs?"
Brian nodded, his mouth full. Clark went into the kitchen and returned with a two-liter soda, a bag of chips and a number of the sweet, gooey snacks that he tended to eat on a regular basis. It was just as well, he thought, that his super powers made it unnecessary for him to worry about his diet. He'd never grown out of his liking for junk food. "Here you go," he said. "If you want anything more, let me know."
Brian nodded and swallowed convulsively. "Why did you tell Bernie that you're Superman?" he asked. "Lois says it's a description, not a name."
"She's right," Clark said. "But ... How much do you know about Superman, Brian? What did Luthor tell you?"
Brian shrugged. "He said you'd outlived your usefulness and that I was supposed to replace you. He was lying, wasn't he?" he added, sadly. "My father lied to me all along, didn't he?"
"I'm afraid so," Clark said. "Did he tell you anything about where I was from?"
Brian nodded. "He said you come from a place called Krypton. He said you were the old model and that I was better. Why did he say stupid stuff like that?"
"Because he's not really your father," Clark said. "He's not a good man, and he hates me because I try to stop him from doing bad things." He walked to the door and pulled the curtains. "That will keep Floyd from peeking in here," he said. "Bernie told me just now that he can help you, Brian. He says that once he fixes the problem you'll live as long as a Kryptonian should -- however long that is. Even I don't know, because I've never met another Kryptonian, and I probably never will. Shall I tell you as much as I know about myself? The truth?"
"Okay," Clark said. He crossed the room to flop into the armchair. "You've flown around the Earth, haven't you? Do you know what it looks like from way high up?"
"It's round," Brian said. "Like a big ball."
"That's right," Clark said. "It's called a planet, and there are other planets out in space. Krypton was a planet, too, a very long ways off. It went around another sun, even -- a red one instead of a yellow one like we have. That was where I came from in the beginning -- as a baby. Only something went wrong. Krypton was going to explode, and my father -- our father, really -- and our mother built a tiny ship and sent me to Earth, because the people here look like Kryptonians. A farmer and his wife found me, and adopted me. They named me Clark and raised me as their own son. When I grew up, I discovered that I could do things that no one else could do, and eventually I came to Metropolis. I wanted to use my strange powers to help people, but I didn't want them to know it was me helping them, so I invented Superman so I could help and yet not be bothered by people who wanted something from me. Even more important, no one would be able to threaten my adopted mother and father to make me do things that I shouldn't. So, that's why you mustn't tell anyone that Clark and Superman are the same person. Do you understand now?"
Brian took a huge bite of Ding Dong and nodded vigorously. "I didn't tell anybody," he said. "Not even my fa -- not even Luthor," he corrected himself.
"Lex Luthor is no more your father than I am," Clark said. "You came from a piece of me, and that means your real father and mother were Jor-El and Lara of Krypton."
"And that means I don't have to do what Luthor tells me to do," Brian said. He gave a satisfied smile. "I don't want to hurt people. I want to have friends like you and Lois and Bernie."
"That's right," Clark said. "You shouldn't hurt people, and anybody who tells you that you should is lying to you. It's wrong, and against the law. Even Superman has to obey the law. Just remember, might is not necessarily right. Okay?"
Brian nodded. "Okay." He munched on the Ding Dong for several seconds before swallowing the mouthful and popping the last piece into his mouth. "I wish I had an adopted mother and father."
"Well," Clark said, "We'll have to see what we can do about that, but in the meantime, you should probably do what Lois and Bernie and I tell you. We won't ask you to do anything wrong. That's a promise."
"How about that sneaky guy who's trying to see in the window?" Brian asked. "He was sitting in his car watching your place when I came in. I didn't let him see me flying," he added. "I just used the key you had under your flower pot."
Clark lowered his glasses and took a quick look to see. Sure enough, Floyd was outside the window, stepping onto a rickety box apparently in an attempt to see through the apartment's high windows.
Clark shook his head. "He's seen me come in here twice, so I guess he's curious. Let's go satisfy his curiosity, okay? Don't do anything super, and just let me do the talking. Come on."
Obediently, Brian got to his feet and followed Clark as he headed for the door. Together they went quietly out, and Clark led the way around to the window. Floyd had just boosted himself up on the box and was peering over the sill into the apartment.
"Looking for something?" Clark inquired.
Floyd jumped uncontrollably and fell backwards as the box cracked under him. Clark caught him before he hit the ground.
"Are you all right?" he asked, setting the man on his feet.
"Uh ..." Floyd cleared his throat, coughed and stuttered as he gathered his dignity. "Uh, yeah. Who's this?"
"This is my brother, Brian," Clark said. "He's visiting from out west."
"I didn't know you had a brother," Floyd said.
"That's because I didn't tell you," Clark said, mildly. "If you want to know something about me, you don't need to look in the window, you know. Just ask me. It's safer, and a lot easier." He gave Floyd his patented look of wide-eyed innocence. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"Positive." Floyd surveyed the brothers with a skeptical expression. "Okay, but I gotta protect my other tenants. If I think something weird is going on, I have to check. You two watch your step, got it?" With those final words, he turned and stalked away.
"What's he talking about?" Brian asked, a note of plaintiveness in his voice. "Are we supposed to watch our feet?"
"It's just an expression," Clark said. "Let's go back in, okay? I think we've discouraged him for now."
Brian followed him back into the apartment. Clark glanced at his wall clock. It was after nine. Lois would be at the ballet with Luthor right now, and fairly safe, but he still wanted to be sure she was all right. On the other hand, leaving Brian alone was a recipe for trouble.
He locked the door. No point in leaving it open for unexpected visitors, in case Floyd decided to return, although he figured that his landlord had probably been routed for the evening.
"I'm going to change my clothes," he told Brian. "Be right back."
"Okay." As he spoke, Brian resumed his position on the sofa and reached for the chips, his gaze already fixed once more on the roadrunner.
The lead box in the pocket of his sports jacket weighed the garment down as Clark removed it. He took the box from his pocket and set it on the nightstand while he changed clothing at normal speed, for once, trying to decide what to do. If Lois came by here after the ballet, it was going to be difficult for them to talk with Brian here, and yet he didn't see what else he could do for now. Brian was understandably lonely. He was afraid to return to Luthor's penthouse, and anyway, Clark didn't want him to. At the same time, when he didn't return, Luthor was going to want to know what had happened to his "Superman". How long would it be before Luthor concluded that something had gone wrong with his creation and decided to have Leek produce another? When that happened, the substitution would be discovered and Luthor would take immediate steps to cover his involvement in the affair.
He needed to talk to Lois tonight, he thought, Brian's presence notwithstanding. If they took everything they had, including the copies of Leek's stuff, to Henderson, the Inspector might be able to get a warrant to search the lab for evidence. On the other hand, if he and Lois went to Leek with an ultimatum, the doctor might decide to hand over his evidence against Luthor. On the other other hand, he might run to Luthor and warn him -- which would probably be the stupidest thing he could do, because Luthor would promptly dispose of every loose end that he could find, which would certainly include Leek.
He was babbling in his head, he realized suddenly, exactly the way Lois babbled out loud. His partner must be rubbing off on him more than he realized. Well, just who did he think he was kidding, anyway? Lois had more than rubbed off on him, a long time ago. He really needed to talk to her, though. Somehow he was always able to think more clearly when the two of them discussed a problem together.
Clark glanced at his watch. Nine-thirty. The ballet wouldn't be over for another hour at the very least.
He pulled on a T-shirt and picked up a pair of tennis shoes. He and Brian had some time to kill. As he started toward the living area again, his gaze fell on the lead box. What would Luthor be keeping in a lead box? Something, obviously, that he didn't want Superman to see; something small, but important. Well, the easiest way to find out was to open it. He'd intended to do so when he got home, but events of various sorts had interfered. He picked up the box and unfastened the catch.
Lois Lane leaned forward in her seat, her attention to all appearances riveted on the dancers flitting about the stage. Don Quixote, Lex had informed her, was one of his favorites.
Beside her, Lex Luthor, urbane businessman and criminal billionaire, relaxed in his seat, an amused little smile playing on his lips. The music swelled as the dance reached its finale and Don Quixote and his loyal sidekick retreated from the stage. Lois wasn't particularly interested in the performance, but it gave her an excuse to remain silent while her mind was elsewhere -- to be specific, it was back at the penthouse with Clark. Had he managed to get the lock of hair? Had he been caught? True, he was Superman, but even he was a pawn of the great god Murphy. Anything could have happened to him. If one of Lex's servants at the penthouse walked in on him, their cover was blown. How was she going to survive until this interminable production was over?
If the circumstances had been different, she would have undoubtedly enjoyed the music and the performance of the talented dancers very much indeed, but right now she just couldn't concentrate. Still, keeping her eyes fixed on the stage gave her a good excuse to keep their conversation to a minimum. Lex undoubtedly thought that he had provided her with a high treat.
The curtains rolled closed, and the lights came up. It was the intermission, and Lois straightened up with a small sigh. "That was beautiful," she said.
Lex nodded, still smiling. "The entire performance is such a comment on man's inhumanity to man, I think," he said. "And yet, a statement of how nobility survives in spite of it."
Lois nodded, not trying to sort out the complexities of the story. She checked the time under the pretext of adjusting her watchband. She had been here for over an hour but it seemed like three.
"Is something wrong?" Lex asked. "You seem to be preoccupied with your watch. I trust I'm not boring you."
"Of course not," Lois said. The last thing she needed was for Lex to realize that she wanted out of this date as quickly as possible. "I think there must be something wrong with the band. It was pinching my wrist and I can't seem to get it adjusted right." She slid a finger under the links and then removed the watch from her wrist. "I think I'll just put it in my purse and see about replacing the band tomorrow. There's no point in letting it ruin my evening."
Lex nodded. "Very wise of you. One should never let one's enjoyment be spoiled by trivialities."
Lois smiled and nodded. "After all, how often do I get a treat like this?"
"Perhaps more often than you might imagine," Luthor said. He glanced around the velvet and satin theater, at the well-dressed patrons of the ballet whose chatter filled the big room to almost deafening levels, and got to his feet. "Shall we stretch our legs for a few moments?"
Lois rose obediently and followed him out of the private box.
By the time they got to the main floor of the place, a number of the other patrons of the ballet had apparently been seized by the same desire. The aisles were crowded with men and women in formal dress, many of them making for the restrooms, she thought, noticing the number of persons leaving the room.
Lex seemed to take great pride exhibiting her on his arm as he circulated around the room, occasionally greeting some acquaintance, or stopping to exchange a word with some high-ranking official in the city government. Lois smiled until she was sure her face was going to crack, aware that she was being observed by a number of envious women. The reporters for the social columns of several of Metropolis's newspapers were also there, and she saw Cat Grant raise an eyebrow at her and smile mockingly, but Lois pretended that she hadn't noticed.
Eventually, they made their way back to Luthor's box and Lois resumed her seat.
"The next act should begin momentarily," Lex said. He took his place next to her and smiled charmingly. "You put them all to shame, you know, Lois." He inclined his head at the crowd below them, where the various patrons of the ballet were slowly returning to their seats. "When I see you beside the altogether unremarkable and certainly overdressed women, like the ones who are here tonight, I'm always astonished at your beauty and poise. You are worthy of so much more than a position as a reporter at a newspaper, no matter how outstanding that paper may be." He brushed at a non-existent mote of dust on his tailored sleeve. "Later tonight, I have a question for you. You must know that I have rarely enjoyed the company of any woman more than I have yours. I've been thinking lately of possibly taking our relationship to a more ..." He broke off as the lights dimmed and the curtains began to roll open. The gabble of voices slowly died. "Well," he said, "it can wait for a better moment."
Lois leaned forward, her scalp prickling with alarm, and fixed her eyes again on the stage, wondering how she could possibly escape the question that she strongly suspected he was going to ask. She'd better think of something, she thought, grimly. Suddenly the time left to the performance seemed all too short, and when it was over she would have to have an answer for him. What on Earth was she going to do now?
Clark paused with his hand on the lid of the lead box as Brian stepped into the bedroom. His twin was holding an empty bag that had contained potato chips. "Are there any more snacks?" he inquired, wistfully. "I can't find anything more to eat."
Clark set down the box. "I think you've finished mostly everything. Do you like pizza?"
"Yes. What is it?"
"Never mind. I'll phone for some. Do you like pepperoni?"
Brian nodded vigorously. Clark picked up the phone.
Fortunately, he had the number of the nearest pizza place on speed dial, due to the fact that he and Lois often worked late here, and sometimes they would watch a video in his apartment after work was over for the day. As a matter of fact, he had several take-out places on speed dial, since they didn't always feel like having pizza.
Clark punched the combination for Antonio's Pizza Grotto into the phone and waited while it rang. At last the harried voice of one of the employees answered.
"Antonio's Pizza. Can you hold?"
"Sure," Clark said, as the employee on the other end punched the "hold" button.
He waited. After at least three minutes had passed, the phone clicked. "Sorry to keep you waiting," the voice said. "May I have your address?"
Clark gave it. There was a pause and then the voice said, "Clark Kent, right?"
"That's right," Clark said.
"And what would you like to order this evening?"
Clark ordered three extra-large pepperoni and sausage pizzas with extra cheese, two orders of cheesy breadsticks and a couple of two-liter sodas, a meal that Lois would have characterized as "cholesterol on a crust".
"Will this be pickup or delivery?" the voice asked politely.
"Pickup," Clark said, reflecting that it would help keep Brian busy for a few more minutes.
The employee at the other end told him it would be ready in fifteen minutes and hung up.
Brian had gone back to watching the Cartoon Channel. Clark glanced at the lead box but decided to put off opening it until Brian was occupied with the food.
"Brian," he said, stepping into the living area.
His brother looked around. "What?"
"I'm going over to pick up the food in a few minutes. Would you like to come with me to help carry it?"
Brian nodded eagerly. "Are we flying?"
"Yes, but we're going to go out the back window and we're going to make sure no one sees us, all right?"
"All right," Brian agreed. "I guess you don't want my fa -- Luthor, that is -- to know that we're friends now. That's all right, because I don't want him to know it, either."
"That's right," Clark said. He glanced at his watch. "We'll go in about fifteen minutes."
"All right," Brian agreed happily.
A short time later when they arrived at the pizza parlor, they landed in the alley behind it, and Clark led the way in, Brian following behind him like an eager puppy. The young woman behind the counter looked at them curiously as Clark stepped up to the register. "Hi Patty. Is my dinner ready yet?"
Patty was a familiar face; a pretty college student from New Troy State, who worked here in the evenings to earn extra money while going to school. She smiled brightly at him. "Hi, Mr. Kent. Your order is coming out right now." She looked past him to Brian, and her eyes widened slightly. "I didn't know you had a twin!"
Clark nodded. "This is my brother, Brian. He's visiting for a few days."
Patty smiled at Brian. "Welcome to Metropolis -- or have you been here before?"
"Uh ... just for a little while," Brian said.
"Well, I hope you get to see all the night spots," Patty said. She set three pizza boxes, another with the breadsticks, and a pair of soda bottles on the counter. "That'll be twenty-nine-fifty, Mr. Kent."
Clark paid the bill and he and Brian divided the boxes between them. Patty bade them a cheerful goodbye, and together they left the establishment.
The flight to Clark's apartment was accomplished with no mishaps, and a few seconds later, they were opening their dinner in the living room.
Brian inhaled the aroma of the pizza ecstatically. "This smells good!" he told Clark. "Uncle Fabian told me I didn't need to eat, but I like eating!"
"So do I," Clark said. "Help yourself. You dip the breadsticks in the marinara sauce like this." He proceeded to demonstrate. "Go ahead. I'll get the glasses for the soda."
"Okay," Brian agreed, a breadstick dripping with cheese in one hand and a king-sized wedge of pizza in the other.
It took the two of them less than fifteen minutes to finish the pizza and breadsticks. Clark ate slowly, watching with amusement as Brian polished off two and a half extra-large pizzas and the lion's share of the breadsticks. He was drinking the last of his bottle of soda when Clark took the remote control and switched the channel over to a college baseball game.
"What's that?" Brian asked.
"It's called baseball," Clark said. "It's a game."
Brian leaned forward, watching the men on the screen, instantly fascinated by the actions of the players. "What are they doing?" he asked.
Clark explained the basics of baseball to his brother. Brian seemed to catch on quickly, which wasn't surprising, considering how fast he learned.
He was still riveted to the game while Clark cleaned up the debris from their meal. Brian's appetite appeared to have been satisfied for the moment, to Clark's relief, and while his guest sat on the sofa, his feet on the coffee table, and completely engrossed in the play, Clark did a quick clean-up of the living area and the kitchen, then retreated to his bedroom.
The lead box still sat on the nightstand where he had left it, and he picked it up. A quick glance at the clock told him that the ballet would probably be over soon. Hopefully Lois would call him once she got to her apartment, but that might be a while yet. He turned the box over and shook it gently. Something inside clunked dully against the metal. Well, there was no reason to put it off any longer. He opened the lid.
Lois was still frantically trying to think of some way to avoid the question that she was certain Lex was going to ask her when they left the elegant theater. Paparazzi lined the exit, and Lois put up a hand to shield her face from the light of a dozen flashbulbs as she emerged on Lex's arm.
Lex, of course, was smiling urbanely at the photographers as he continued to make his leisurely way toward the limousine that had just pulled up at the curb. The uniformed chauffeur leaped out of the driver's seat and ran around to open the rear door for them, and Lex stood back to let Lois enter first.
There was a swoosh of air, and an instant's disorientation, and Lois found herself clasped tightly in Superman's arms, shooting upward so fast that the blast of wind in her face took her breath away.
Wait, that wasn't right. When she flew in Superman's arms, she usually didn't feel more than a gentle breeze.
She twisted her head to look at the man who carried her and knew at once that this wasn't Clark. It was Brian.
"Brian, what are you doing?" she demanded, a little annoyed. "Take me back!"
"I can't." Brian's voice was taut and frightened. She had the feeling that it was taking every ounce of his self-control to prevent it from shaking. "Clark needs you to help him. He told me to get you. I think he's dying."
"What?" The wind whistling past her ears made it hard to understand, and for a moment it crossed her mind that Brian's flight seemed unsteady. Heaven help her if he lost his grip on her in mid-air! "What's the matter?"
Brian came in to a rough landing on the sidewalk in front of Clark's apartment and set her on her feet.
"I can't go in. It hurts to get too close," Brian said. "Clark said you could help him. Hurry! He's in the bedroom."
Lois stared at him for several seconds, then she made up her mind. This whole thing was completely confusing, but the important part seemed to be that Clark needed her, and had sent Brian to get her. "Okay, stay here."
"Hurry!" Brian said.
Lois turned and ran up the stairs.
The door to the apartment wasn't locked. Lois pushed it wide and stepped inside.
Brian's explanation hadn't been completely clear -- to be honest, it had been pretty unclear. The only thing that she was sure of was that Clark needed her and that, whatever was wrong, Brian couldn't get too close because it hurt.
But what could hurt Superman?
Admittedly, Brian wasn't Superman, but he was Superman's twin, a Kryptonian in every way that mattered. But nothing could hurt Superman!
All speculation aside; Clark needed her. "In the bedroom," Brian had said. She headed for Clark's sleeping area quickly but cautiously. Surely Brian would have warned her if whatever had happened to Clark was harmful to her -- if he knew.
"Clark?" she called.
"Lois?" The word was barely audible. "Help!"
The sound of his voice made her instantly forget her caution. She hurried into Clark's bedroom and stopped in shock at the sight that met her eyes.
Clark was sprawled awkwardly on the rug, to all appearances, barely conscious. Directly between them, a metal box lay on its side, its lid open, and beside it, as if it had rolled from the box when it fell, an irregular chunk of green crystal, a little smaller than her clenched fist, glowed malevolently.
Lois had never seen anything like it before, but logic said that since it was the only thing here that was at all unusual, it was somehow connected to the crisis before her. Her first instinct was to get that thing back in the box that it had apparently come from as fast as she could.
She glanced quickly around the room. If this stuff, whatever it was, could fell Superman, she sure as heck wasn't going to touch it! Brian had said that it hurt him to get too close. She didn't feel anything; it might not affect her, but through the bathroom door, she could see a towel hanging from its rack. Without further delay, she crossed the room, appropriated the towel and, using it to protect her hand, chivvied the hunk of crystal gingerly into its box and closed the lid.
A long sigh from Clark brought her around. Her partner's eyes were open and he was trying to push himself up on his forearms. She dropped to her knees beside him. "Clark, are you all right?"
"Yeah, I think so." His voice was thin, but gaining strength as he spoke.
"What was that stuff?" she demanded, but somewhere under the surface a part of her mind was working fast, stringing together odd facts. The green crystal had affected both Brian and Clark, but not her. There was only one thing that she had ever heard of that might be able to hurt or kill Superman: the meteorite that Wayne Irig had found in his field, that Jason Trask had sought so feverishly in Smallville, and that she -- no, that Clark had named Kryptonite.
And quite suddenly another scene sprang unbidden into her mind -- the two of them sitting at the table in Maisie's Diner, in Smallville, and Clark's shocked expression at a very ordinary paper cut on his index finger. She had paid almost no attention to his reaction at the time, except to think that he was making an unnecessary fuss about so ordinary an event.
But of course, it hadn't been ordinary to him. Superman had never had a paper cut before.
There had been Kryptonite in Smallville after all, and Clark had known it all along. Somewhere, he must have encountered it, and ...
And it had robbed him of his super powers, as the paper cut had demonstrated. Superman had fought Trask to save his parents' lives as an ordinary man who could die as easily as any other -- and he almost had. If she and Rachel Harris had arrived a few seconds later, Trask would have shot him in the back.
She found that she was staring at him, and that he was refusing to meet her eyes. There was a long, charged silence, then Clark got slowly and carefully to his feet. Lois helped him make his shaky way to the foot of his bed, and he sank down on it with a faint sigh and rested his face in his hands.
Still neither of them said anything. The sensation of which Lois was most aware was a combination of panic and conversely enough, pleased realization. Clark had sent Brian to her to get help, so he must trust her, at least to some degree. Only now the rational part of her mind was gibbering in complete panic. What was she supposed to say now? It was obvious that she couldn't pretend not to know the truth any longer. And if that last sentence had made any sense, then she was doing better than she thought she was. Well, on second thought, it actually had made sense, which was almost worse. In any case, Clark had to know after this that she knew he was Superman. Even if she hadn't known before, she would have to be an idiot not to have figured it out after this. What in heaven's name was she going to do? Tell him that she had known his secret for three days, ever since she had first seen him and Brian together -- oh sure, that made a lot of sense! Real smooth, Lois! she told herself, derisively. Should she tell him the truth, and explain how she'd been trying to show him that he could trust her, and yet she hadn't told him that she knew ... now she wished that she had let him know right away. Still, she hadn't told anyone else, had she? That had to count for something!
She was babbling in her head again. The heck with it, she thought. So what if she babbled? It helped her to think. Only right now, she couldn't seem to resolve anything. Besides that, her heart was still pounding with the aftermath of the near disaster. Clark could have quite literally died. Jason Trask had been right all along about Kryptonite, she thought. The man might have been crazy, but he hadn't been stupid.
They both jumped when the door of Clark's apartment slammed, and an instant later Brian stepped into the room, still in his Superman outfit. "Can I come in?"
"Sure," Lois said, after a tiny pause. As an afterthought, she appropriated the box and snapped the catch firmly closed. "I think this stuff will be a lot safer this way," she said. "Clark, what happened?"
"I ... I opened the box," he said.
"And it never occurred to you to think that there might be something dangerous inside?" she asked, irritably. "Oh no, of course it didn't!" she added, warming to her subject. Now that the danger was past, reaction had begun to set in. "Naturally not! You're Superman! Nothing can hurt you -- but you knew better, didn't you? You knew that Kryptonite was real, didn't you!" Without realizing it, she was waving an accusing finger directly beneath his nose, "You ran into it in Smallville, and it took away your powers! That's how come you got that paper cut!" She planted her fists on her hips and glared at him. "Where did you get that stuff, anyway? Did you find it in the penthouse? Of course you did, or you wouldn't have opened it like the lunkhead you are!"
The shocked expression on Clark's face changed and astonishment took its place. "Lunkhead?" he said.
"Well, what would you call it? That stuff hurt Brian. It has to be Kryptonite, and if anybody would have the real thing, it would be Lex! If you knew the stuff existed, you should know he'd have it."
"But there wasn't any way I could have known," he protested. "The piece in Smallville was destroyed, and I've never seen any since then!"
"But Wayne Irig said he sent a piece to a lab in Wichita, and it disappeared!" Lois said. "If either of us had been thinking straight after all that stuff with crazy secret agents and Corn Festivals, we'd have realized he stole it! When anything that looks impossible happens, I always think of Lex, remember!"
"Lois," Clark said, "that's really stretching a coincidence too far. How would Luthor even hear about the stuff?"
"You'd be surprised what Lex hears," Lois said. The flash of anger had vanished as quickly as it had surfaced and she felt herself beginning to shake. "Clark, you could have died!"
"Yes, I could have," he admitted. "That's why I sent Brian to get you. This isn't the first time you've saved my life." He put out a hand and pulled her to sit next to him. "Are you all right?"
"Of course I am," she muttered, a little embarrassed at her outburst. "I've seen it all, remember? Fire, famine, floods ..."
"And your partner turning out to be Superman," Clark said. "I'm sorry, Lois. I meant to tell you a little more gently."
"You were going to tell me?" she faltered. "Really?"
"Yeah," Clark said. "Just not quite yet. I hadn't figured out how."
"Oh," she said in a small voice.
Lois was taking the fact that he was Superman a little differently than Clark had imagined. Recently, he had caught himself thinking about the subject, and constructing various scenarios where he revealed his dual identity to her. This didn't match any of them. She didn't seem angry at all about the deception; instead, she had jumped on him about his carelessness -- an ironic circumstance, since it was usually he who was scolding Lois for the same failing, and in all honesty, there was no reason for him to have imagined that there would be Kryptonite in the box.
In fact, she seemed somewhat ... well, he wasn't sure exactly how she was taking the revelation. She seemed a little uncertain, if anything, and more shaken at his close brush with death than the fact that he was the superhero that she had fallen head over heels for, several months ago.
"Why are you mad?" Brian asked. His lower lip showed a tendency to quiver in the face of Lois's wrath. "Aren't you glad Clark is okay?"
Lois turned quickly to him, and Clark hid a smile at the way she moved to immediately reassure the boy-man. "I'm not mad," she said. "I was just upset that Clark was hurt. I'm glad he's all right. And you did exactly the right thing, when you came to get me."
Brian's anxious expression relaxed into a tentative smile. "Really?"
"Yes, really," she said, in a tone that seemed to soothe all of Brian's doubts. "I'm glad you came when you did. I was afraid Lex was going to ... " She broke off, jumping to her feet. "Omigod! Lex!"
"What about him?" Clark asked, at once. "What were you afraid he was going to do?"
"Brian snatched me up just as I was getting into Lex's limousine," Lois said. "Actually, that's not a bad thing, because I think Lex was going to ask me to marry him, and now I won't have to answer him, at least yet ... but what am I going to tell him about tonight?"
Clark had a mental image of the scene she described, and couldn't help smiling, in spite of his instant revulsion at the idea of Lois married to the billionaire. "That must have been a shock to Luthor," he said.
"I think it must have been," Lois said. She glanced at Brian, who was listening to the conversation with a worried expression. "Don't feel bad, Brian, I'm not angry at you. Actually, you did me a favor, but I need to tell Lex some kind of story to explain what happened."
"Well," Clark said, "if Superman were to take you off to get a story on some breaking event ..."
"What breaking event?" Lois said, skeptically. "As far as I know, there isn't any breaking story anywhere, and even if there was, you're in no shape to take me there!"
It was amazing to see how she seemed to have taken his revelation in her stride, Clark thought. But then Lois tended to be a realist except when she was rationalizing away some action of her own that she knew underneath was at least questionable. Besides, Brian was here, so she couldn't say what she was thinking. She was probably going to flay him verbally when she got him alone, but at least the biggest step was over. The rest could only be downhill. He smiled slightly. "I'm afraid you're right. Any ideas?"
"Well," she said slowly, "maybe it was an interview with a really hard-to-reach source, and I needed to do the interview right now, and there wasn't time to explain. Only why would Superman be involved?"
"It's mixed up with some project of his, and the people involved would only talk to Lois Lane," Clark said.
Lois raised an eyebrow at him, but nodded doubtfully. "Maybe. It could be some long-term project and the series probably won't appear in the paper for several months," she said. "I guess that might be reasonable."
"Maybe Superman was trying to help somebody who was afraid of him," Brian said suddenly. "So he had to come and get you."
Clark looked at his twin with a certain amount of respect. Brian might be child-like, but as he had already demonstrated, he learned fast.
"That's very good," he said. "What do you think, Lois? If you keep it vague enough, do you think it might get by?"
"I think so," she said, and Brian beamed. "I'll wait a couple of hours and call him. In the meantime, Clark, don't you think we should get this stuff out of your apartment? Anything could happen with it here."
"I think it's safe enough where it is," Clark said. "Just as long as no one opens the lid."
"Maybe you should give it to Bernie," Brian said. "He's trying to help me, you know."
"Yes, I know," Clark said. "I talked to him a little while ago," he added, for Lois's benefit. "He says his treatment will work on Brian, just as soon as his invulnerability fades."
"That's a relief," Lois said. She glanced at Brian with a half-smile. "I've gotten to like him."
Their conversation was interrupted by the sound of Clark's front door opening. A voice said, "What's going on in here, Kent? I already told you I gotta protect my tenants ..."
"Floyd!" Clark whispered.
Footsteps crossed the living room, and bare seconds later the apartment's landlord stepped into the sleeping area. His expression changed ludicrously from suspicion to speechless surprise, followed by a mixture of mistrust and doubt. "What's going on here?" he demanded. He looked from Clark, still sitting on the foot of his bed, to Lois, dressed for an evening at the ballet, to Brian, still in his Superman costume. Brian folded his arms and looked impassively back.
It was fortunate that Brian had practiced at "being Superman", Clark thought. He looked very convincing. He opened his mouth, not certain of what he was going to say, when Lois stepped into the breach.
"Look, Mr. Whoever-You-Are," she said, with a very good imitation of Perry when she burst unannounced into his office, as she frequently did, "Even if you're the landlord, you're still supposed to knock!"
"Who are you?" Floyd demanded.
"I'm Clark's partner at the Daily Planet," Lois said, glaring at him, "and I guess you know who this is, don't you?" She jerked her head at Brian. "Do you mind? We're working."
Floyd stared at her, opened his mouth, shut it, opened it again, looked at Brian and appeared to deflate. Clark mastered the urge to laugh. He could actually sympathize with Floyd -- a little, anyway. The picture they presented would look odd to anyone. His landlord seemed completely at a loss.
Lois began to tap her foot, her expression an excellent imitation of their boss's impatience when some underling of his in the newsroom had failed to live up to his expectations. Floyd glanced uncertainly at Clark and began to edge backwards. The tapping of Lois's foot increased, as did the speed of Floyd's retreat. A moment later, the door closed behind him. Lois followed him and Clark heard the latch turn with a decisive click.
"Nosy busybody," Lois said, as she returned to the room. "How are you feeling now, Clark?"
"Better," Clark said. He got slowly to his feet, wincing slightly at the protesting twinges that shot through his muscles and joints as he put weight on his legs again. "No powers, but that won't last." He glanced at Brian and back to Lois. His twin's presence made any deeper discussion with Lois about his dual identity impossible, but asking him to leave wasn't a wise idea.
"Brian got lonely at the lab," he explained to Lois. "He's staying here tonight."
"Oh," Lois said, comprehending the difficulty at once. "Well, I guess I should probably go home -- if Brian will give me a lift."
"Are you sure?" Clark asked. "The last thing you need is for Luthor to show up at your apartment."
"With a proposal of marriage," she added. "You've got a point."
Brian stepped forward eagerly. "I can fly you home and check before I set you down," he suggested. "Is that okay?"
Lois nodded, but she was frowning slightly. "Can you take me to New Jersey?" she inquired.
"New Jersey?" Clark asked. The workings of his partner's mind baffled him sometimes.
"Sure. I'll call him from New Jersey. He's bound to have caller ID, so if I call him from there, he'll think that's where Superman's emergency is," she said, simply. "I'll tell him it's going to take a while, and he shouldn't wait for me to get back."
"That's very good," Clark said.
She looked him over carefully. "Are you sure you're going to be all right?" she asked.
"I should be," he said. "I just don't have any powers. If any emergencies come up, it looks like Brian is going to have to handle them until I'm back up to speed."
"I will," Brian said, nodding eagerly. "I want to help if I can."
"I'll give you some tips," Clark said. He found himself looking at Lois again. "We'll talk about ... things ... tomorrow, all right?"
"All right," she said. "Call me if you start feeling worse."
"I will," he said. He wished he could tell what she was thinking, but her expression told him nothing.
After Lois and Brian had left, he picked up the lead box that contained the nugget of Kryptonite. Brian was probably right, he reflected. He would give this to Dr. Klein in the morning when he took Brian back to STAR Labs. In the meantime, he thrust the box into the bottom drawer of his dresser and covered it with pieces of clothing. It would be safe enough there until tomorrow.
Moving slowly, he began to get ready for bed. He doubted he'd be able to get to sleep until Brian returned, but suddenly his bed looked very comfortable.
The moon was nearly full, and it cast a silver light over the countryside as Lois and Brian soared through the night air toward New Jersey. Clark's twin brother seemed earnestly determined to do exactly as he was told, and Lois had to smile a little at his grim expression.
"Relax, Brian," she said at last. "You're doing fine."
The boy looked at her anxiously. "Do you like me, Lois?" he asked.
She was able to answer that without hesitation. "Yes, I do. You're a very nice person. That's why I'm glad Dr. Klein is going to be able to help you."
He smiled. "Good. I like you, too, and Clark and Bernie. Bernie told Clark that there was a complication he didn't expect, though."
"Did he say what it was?"
Brian shook his head. "He said he wanted to talk to Clark about it, but that the treatment would work."
"If Dr. Klein says it will work, it will," Lois said. "I don't know him very well, but my friend Jimmy Olsen tells me he's brilliant. If he says he can do something, he means it."
"Do I have to go back to my father when it's done?" Brian asked. "I don't want to go back."
"Definitely not!" Lois said. "We don't want him to know you're still alive, or he'll try to use you to do bad things. Clark and I will figure out something. I promise; okay? We'll make sure you have a place to live without Lex. You'll never have to do what he tells you again."
Brian nodded, looking surprisingly like Clark when something was bothering him. "He scared me," he told Lois. "All the time -- even when he was pretending to like me. I heard him and Uncle Fabian talking about me losing my powers and then dying, like the frogs died. He ... I don't think he cared at all." He looked at her, and in the moonlight she could see his lower lip quiver, but he made a manful attempt to hide it. "I don't feel good like I did a few days ago. I think it's starting to happen to me -- the things that Uncle Bernie said would happen. I'm scared. I don't want to die."
Brian was only a little boy, Lois thought, even if he looked like a grown man. She didn't know much about kids, anymore, but she remembered that when she'd been a child she'd trusted her mother and father. The fact that they had betrayed her trust had struck deeply into her and made it difficult to trust anyone -- until she had met Clark. If nothing else, she owed it to him to try to reassure his little brother. Besides, she did like Brian. She didn't want him to be afraid.
"Brian," she said, "I want you to listen to me. Clark and I aren't going to let you die. Dr. Klein can and will help you. You're going to be fine."
"Promise?" Brian asked.
"I promise," Lois answered. "Did Dr. Klein tell you that Clark and I brought him some of the cloned frogs?"
"No. How could you do that?"
"Clark and I sneaked into Dr. Leek's lab in the middle of the night," she explained. "We took four of the frogs -- two sick ones, and two that hadn't got sick yet -- and gave them to Dr. Klein to try to figure out why they died."
"Why?" Brian asked.
"Superman overheard them talking about it. We didn't want you to die, so we needed to find out why it happened so we could help," she explained.
"I knew he was there," Brian said. "I 'felt' him. In my head. I didn't tell my fa -- Luthor."
Wow! Telepathy between Clark and his twin? That was something Clark hadn't mentioned. She'd need to ask him about it. "Why not?"
She felt him shrug. "I don't know. I didn't want to tell him. Superman didn't feel like my enemy, even if Luthor said he was."
"What do you mean you 'felt' him in your head?"
"I can sometimes feel the things he's feeling. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't." Brian shrugged. "I could never feel what Luthor was feeling, or Uncle Fabian. I can't feel anything from you, either, but it's different with Clark."
"Maybe because you're both Kryptonians. Or maybe because you're twins. What's he feeling now?"
Brian was silent for a long minute. "I think he's asleep," he said.
That wasn't surprising, Lois decided. "That's probably a good thing," she said. "Anyhow, on the subject of the frogs, Dr. Klein figured out exactly what was killing the frogs. We saw them afterwards. We couldn't even tell which frog had been sick. He'll be able to do that for you, too."
Brian seemed to think about that for some seconds. "I don't like to feel sick," he said. "I can't fly as fast anymore, and I ache. My head hurts a little, too."
Maybe, Lois thought, that was why she was more aware of the cold and the breeze of their flight than she was when she flew with Superman. "How far are we from New Jersey, now?" she asked.
"That big patch of lights down there is Newark," Brian said. "Is this okay? Should I land here?"
"This is fine," Lois told him. "The Daily Planet has a branch in Newark. Let's find it. Do you know where Public Street is?"
"Well, I've been there once. Find Broadway, and I can take it from there."
Brian was silent for several seconds, floating motionless in the air, and then their forward motion resumed. A moment later, they were hovering above a street sign that announced itself as Broadway and Freedom Drive. Lois directed him south.
The local office of the Daily Planet was nothing like her place of work in Metropolis, but her press credentials got them entrance, and a moment later she and Brian were escorted to an office from which she could make her all-important telephone call. Nigel St. John answered, and after an inordinate amount of time, that was actually about thirty seconds, she was speaking with Lex. Her date for the evening sounded both irritated and resigned when she gave him her prepared story, but she had the feeling that his attention wasn't entirely on their conversation. After signing off, she glanced at her watch.
It was eleven-thirty. She pulled her coat more tightly around herself. "I wonder what Lex is up to at this time of night?"
Brian spoke up. "I could hear him talking to Mr. Nigel before he started talking to you. He's very angry that I'm not there, and he's mad that Superman took you away from him." He bit his lip. "He says he's going to make him regret it."
"Are you supposed to be there now?"
Brian looked uneasy. "I'm supposed to be home at ten."
"So he must be wondering where you are," Lois said. She laid a hand on his arm. "It will be all right, I promise. Clark and I will make sure he can't get hold of you again. Right now, we'll just let him wonder. He'll probably send his people out looking for you soon. We'll just have to make sure they don't find you."
Brian nodded, looking scared. "I don't want them to find me. He'll make me hurt Clark."
"Not if I have anything to say about it." Lois stopped speaking. Brian was looking more afraid than ever. "I have an idea. We're going to disguise you, okay? That way if any of them see you, they won't realize it's you. Do you still have the clothes Clark gave you?"
Brian nodded. "They're at Clark's place."
"Let's go get them," Lois said. "Clark has some spare glasses in his apartment. We're not even going to let Lex know you're alive. You're just going to disappear as far as he's concerned. The only people who will know the truth are Clark, Dr. Klein, you and I. Okay?"
Brian swallowed and nodded weakly. "Okay." He had wrapped his arms defensively around himself. "I wish I wasn't super," he said abruptly. "If I was like you and other people, my father wouldn't want me for anything. He'd leave me alone."
"Brian," Lois said firmly. "Trust us. Clark and I will keep you safe. Come on. Let's get back to Metropolis."
Clark was sound asleep when they let themselves back into his apartment. Lois tiptoed into his room and opened the drawer to his nightstand. Clark never twitched. He was sleeping on his stomach with his face buried in the pillow, and she paused to admire the torso that was imperfectly concealed by the sheet and the T-shirt that had hitched itself up around his armpits.
Drawing a deep breath and feeling distinctly warm, she returned her attention to the purpose that had brought her here. There were three pairs of glasses in the drawer, and she selected the pair with the old-fashioned frames that he had worn the first time she had seen him. They would make Brian look a little different than Clark, but at the same time it would take away any obvious resemblance to Superman. She could say that from experience.
Brian had changed into jeans and a T-shirt by the time she returned to the living area, and combed his hair into an approximation of Clark's hair when in his civilian clothes. She held out the glasses. "Try these. And I think you'd better let your hair grow a little ... how do you cut it, anyway?"
"With my heat vision," Brian said. "Nothing else will cut it."
"Well, don't cut it for a while. Let it get to about the level of your collar," Lois advised. "That was how Clark's was when we first met. You won't look anything like Superman; take it from me."
Brian slipped the glasses on and examined his face in the small mirror that hung on the wall near the kitchen. "I do look different, don't I?" He seemed somewhat reassured.
"Definitely. The glasses will make you look even more like Clark, too. Let me try something." Lois took the comb and arranged his hair so that one lock fell across his forehead. "There; perfect."
Brian squinted critically at the image reflected in the mirror. "I look like a dork," was his verdict. He grinned suddenly. "Is this really how Clark used to look?"
"He did when I first met him. He changed his style later."
"If I look like this, Luthor won't know it's me," Brian said with satisfaction.
"You mustn't wear these around Dr. Klein, though," Lois cautioned. "We don't want him to guess about Clark."
"All right," Brian said. He turned back to the mirror. His grin grew wider. "I really like this," he said. "Nobody will ever guess."
"What's going on?" a sleepy voice behind them inquired. Lois turned.
Clark was standing at the entrance to his bedroom, blinking drowsily at them. He was still wearing jeans and a rumpled T-shirt, and his glasses were nowhere to be seen. Lois found herself staring at his face.
In spite of the fact that she had realized the truth about him three days ago, seeing the actual fact in front of her was still a shock: Clark's disheveled hair, combined with Superman's features. It simply drove home what she already knew; Clark Kent was Superman. Or, Superman was Clark Kent, and always had been.
"What?" Clark said.
"Nothing." Lois wrenched her eyes from his face. "Brian's afraid Lex will find him. I told him we'd fix it so he won't."
Clark examined Brian's disguise. "Are those my old glasses?"
Lois nodded. "I figured you wouldn't mind if he borrowed them for a little while."
"You were right. What happened? I thought you were going back to your apartment after you made the call from New Jersey."
"I was, but Brian overheard Lex talking to Nigel St. John. He was annoyed that Brian wasn't back yet."
"I get it," Clark said. He studied Brian for a moment. "Did I really look like that when I got to Metropolis?"
"Yeah." Lois nodded. "I don't think you really ought to blame me for sizing you up as a hack back then. Besides, I had to admit I was wrong after I got to know you."
"You did?" Clark asked.
"Sure I did -- even if I didn't exactly say so." She shrugged. "You must have known that."
"Well, maybe," Clark conceded. He yawned. "You know, I was thinking before everything sort of fell apart this evening. Maybe in the morning we should take what we know to Henderson, give him our evidence, and tell him more or less how we got it. He might be in a better position to pressure Leek than we could. Personally, I'd back Bill Henderson against a dozen Leeks any day of the week, and if we wait too long, Luthor could decide to dispose of Leek to get rid of an inconvenient witness."
Lois considered the idea a little reluctantly. "I guess we could give it to him with the proviso that we'd get the exclusive if he can pin something on Lex. It would certainly take Lex's mind off of Brian, too. Besides," she added, "I don't want him to propose to me."
"Neither do I," Clark said.
"He isn't likely to propose to you," Lois said. "You may be pretty, but I don't think he'd appreciate you the same way."
"I certainly hope not!" Clark said, shocked. He paused. "'Pretty'?"
"That's from my point of view, not Lex's," Lois said. "On the other hand, I'm not so sure about St. John ..." She grinned at the appalled expression on his face. "Anyway, I'm going to ask Brian to take me home now, and tomorrow you can take him back to Dr. Klein. Then we'll get our stuff together and make a visit to Inspector Henderson."
"You agree, then?" Clark asked.
She shrugged. "It's probably the best way to get the evidence out of Leek. Bill can be a lot more intimidating than you and I can. Once in a while you come up with a good idea," she added magnanimously. "Don't ever say I never give you credit for anything ... What?" she added, at his snort. "I can sometimes be nice!"
"I think," Clark said obscurely, "that I was worrying unnecessarily." He glanced at Brian. "Be sure nobody sees you drop her off."
"I will," Brian promised. "Just a minute and I'll get changed." He picked up his Superman outfit and headed for the bathroom.
As he disappeared into the bedroom, Clark regarded Lois with a little smile. "Sometimes you surprise me," he said. "No, I take that back. You surprise me most of the time. We still need to talk tomorrow. I guess you can yell at me then."
"Yell at you?" Lois said. Then she recalled that Clark still didn't know exactly when she had discovered his other identity. "Oh yeah. We'll talk about it when we have more time. I kind of have the feeling that tomorrow is going to be pretty busy."
"So do I," Clark said. He glanced around as Brian emerged from the bedroom dressed again in his Superman regalia. "I'm going to try to get a little sleep for whatever is left of tonight," he said. "Good night, Lois."
"Good night," she said.
Bernard Klein was in his lab when Clark and Brian walked into the scientist's office the next morning. Clark could see him through the clear window, peering into the eyepiece of a microscope and apparently muttering under his breath.
He couldn't hear what the man was saying, however. Clark's super powers were still largely in abeyance, exactly the way it had been the day after his first acquaintance with the poisonous substance in Smallville, but this time he was less worried. He couldn't be sure, of course, but he had at least a reasonable expectation that the powers would return within a day or two. In the meantime, however, Superman was on vacation. The less that Metropolis saw of him the better, anyway. If Superman effectively vanished for a time, he'd told Brian, it would leave Lex Luthor in some doubt of exactly what had occurred the previous night, and in limbo concerning his own Superman. Then he'd had to explain to Brian what he meant by limbo. In any case, if Luthor thought that the two Supermen might have encountered each other sometime during the night, he could draw his own conclusions over the fate of his creation. If he were to think that Superman and his double had killed each other, so much the better.
To this, Brian enthusiastically agreed. If he had to make some kind of rescue, he promised, he would try to do so in a way that didn't reveal his presence to witnesses. As Clark had noted before, Brian learned fast.
"Sit down," he said, waving to one of the leather chairs that Dr. Klein had squeezed into the crowded little office. "As soon as he's finished with whatever he's doing, we'll find out what he wants to tell us."
The door from the lab opened and Bernard Klein entered. He looked slightly taken aback at the sight of Clark. "Mr. Kent!" he said. "I expected Superman."
"Superman had an emergency," Clark explained, getting to his feet. "He asked me to bring Brian over in his place, and find out about the complication you mentioned to him last night." He added, as Klein looked doubtful, "Lois and I are working on this whole business with him, as you probably know. If there's any problem, you can count on us not to print it."
"Oh, of course not!" Klein said. "I hadn't even considered that angle. Still, since Brian is the patient here, if you have his permission, I suppose it's all right."
Clark glanced at Brian, who had also risen to his feet. "Is it all right with you?" he asked.
His brother nodded. "I guess so." He swallowed. "Nobody ever asked me what I wanted before. At least until ..."
Clark put an arm around the boy. "Brian, you have the same rights as anyone else. I should have explained that before, but things have been happening pretty fast."
Brian gulped and nodded. "Am I going to be okay?" he asked, turning to look at Bernard Klein. "I don't want to die!"
"You're not going to die!" Klein looked appalled. "There's one small problem, but it isn't that!"
"Maybe if you explained, it would help," Clark suggested.
"Uh ... right." Klein picked up a folder and opened it. "These are all the results of the tests I ran yesterday," he said. "The complication I spoke of relates to the interaction of the frog DNA and the Kryptonian ability to absorb sunlight. The location of the extra strand of DNA interferes with the ability. As long as the accelerated growth enzyme is active, there isn't any problem, but once it's inactivated, the ability to absorb sunlight is largely inhibited."
"And this means ..." Clark prompted.
"Once we inhibit the enzyme, Brian will be unable to absorb enough sunlight to energize his super powers," Dr. Klein explained. "I'm sorry, son, but there's nothing I can do about it. It's the super powers or your life."
Clark bit his lip. If he had to give up his super powers to save his own life, he knew what his choice would be, but Brian might not see things the same way. Would his brother be willing to sacrifice his super powers to live? Brian was a child. He wasn't really capable of reasoning like an adult -- at least yet.
"Brian?" he said.
His twin was frowning as he worked out what the scientist had said. "You mean," he said finally, "that I'd be like everybody else?"
"I'm afraid so," Dr. Klein said. "It's that, or letting the enzyme remain active ... which will kill you in a very short time. I'm sorry."
To Clark's astonishment, the boy's face broke into a wide grin. "If I'm like everybody else, my father won't want me anymore," he said. "I don't want the super powers." Impulsively, he threw his arms around Bernard Klein and hugged him, much to the scientist's surprise. "Thank you!"
Klein emerged from the embrace looking somewhat ruffled, but pleased. "Uh ... you're welcome, Brian. I'm glad you're happy. I shouldn't say there won't be anything left of the powers. There may be a residual ability to absorb sunlight, but at the most it will be minimal. You may retain traces of the super powers -- It's possible that you'll be slightly faster and stronger than most ordinary humans, perhaps your hearing and eyesight will be more acute -- but only slightly. Eventually your body is going to reject the foreign DNA. Apparently the Kryptonian immune system won't tolerate it for more than a short time; I'm already seeing indications that that's beginning to occur, but unfortunately it wouldn't be in time to save your life, and in any case, the alteration is permanent. The powers would still disappear as the frog DNA was rejected and the growth factor diminished."
Brian obviously hadn't understood that last caveat at all, but it didn't really matter, Clark thought. His brother understood the most important point -- that he would no longer be super-powered. He clapped Brian lightly on the shoulder. "I guess you feel better now, huh?"
The boy nodded vigorously, and it was impossible to misinterpret the joyful smile that hadn't disappeared from his face. "Yeah!"
Dr. Klein nodded. "I guess I shouldn't have worried," he said. "I'd like Brian to stay here for a few hours while I run a few more measurements and tests. Our window of time is going to be fairly limited, so I want to be ready the instant the invulnerability fades."
"Is that all right?" Clark asked his brother. "Lois and I have some things to do this morning, so if you'll be all right here ..."
"Sure," Brian said. "I like Bernie. He was explaining all the things he was doing yesterday. This science stuff is really interesting!"
Bernard Klein nodded seriously. "He has a real aptitude for it," he said to Clark. "Maybe he should look at it as a possible career someday."
"Maybe," Clark agreed. "We can talk about it at least. Brian wants to stay at my place again tonight, so I'll pick him up this afternoon, if that's all right."
"That's fine," Dr. Klein said. "Come by at about five."
Waiting for the taxi outside STAR Labs, Clark found himself scowling at nothing. Brian didn't want super powers because they made him the target of Lex Luthor and Fabian Leek. The trouble was, once Luthor found out that the lock of hair had vanished, he was going to be desperate to find his clone, if he was alive, as the only remaining source of Kryptonian DNA. True, they could probably hide Brian, but Luthor's resources were vast. Brian wasn't practiced at concealing his identity and it was conceivable that Luthor's minions could find him. Clark didn't like the idea of the boy, defenseless without his super powers, in the hands of his ruthless "father". Brian was also going to need a place to stay, and people who had the resources to teach him how to be an adult.
Clark shoved his hands into his pockets. He needed the council of his mother and father, he decided. Martha and Jonathan Kent might not be able to solve the problem, but just talking a complicated situation over with them often helped him to see solutions that hadn't been obvious to him before. He couldn't fly out to see them at the moment, but there was no reason he couldn't make a phone call.
"Hello?" Martha Kent's voice brought a wave of relief. He hadn't realized until this minute how much he had been fretting over the problem represented by Brian.
"Hi, Mom," he said.
"Clark! We've been worrying about you and ... everything. Is everything all right?"
"Well -- mostly. I have a problem I wanted to discuss with you," Clark said. "Is Dad around?"
"Right here," his father's voice said.
"Um ... is either of you on a cordless phone?" Clark asked. Normally the possibility of eavesdroppers wouldn't have bothered him, but in dealing with Lex Luthor, it was safer to be a little paranoid.
"I am," his mother said.
"Could you go into the other room and pick up the regular one?"
"That kind of problem, huh? Just a minute." There was the sound of the phone clicking off, and a few seconds later, a receiver being picked up. "All right," she said, "what's going on? I guess there's a good reason you're being so careful."
"Yes," Clark said. "That's why I'm calling from a pay phone."
"Why don't you just ... come out and we can talk in person?" his father asked.
"I can't," Clark said. "Remember that stuff that Wayne found on his property? He sent a piece of it to a lab in Wichita, where it disappeared. I found it."
A faint gasp. "Are you all right?"
"More or less -- but I can't make it out there right now."
"Where ... did you find it?"
"I'm coming to that," Clark said. "Remember, the other day I said I might come to you for advice, Mom? Well, a lot has happened since then ..."
His parents were silent while he described what had happened since his last visit to Smallville. When he had finished, he said, "So, that's the situation right now. Dr. Klein says he can save Brian, but he won't have any powers afterwards. If Luthor gets his hands on him, he's not going to be able to protect himself. Plus, I need to find somewhere for him to stay, and someone who can teach him how to take care of himself. I figured you'd probably be able to give me some suggestions. I'll be more than happy to help with that part, but I want to get him out of Metropolis as soon as I can, for his own safety."
"That's for sure!" his mother said. "I don't want that terrible man to get anywhere near the poor child again. Clark, this is your brother we're talking about. We're your parents; we're his parents too. It's only logical."
"Don't argue, Clark," his mother told him in the tone of voice that said she'd made up her mind. "Unless there's a better arrangement, he can stay with us. I raised you; I can certainly teach your brother how to behave."
"I just don't want you to have to take on a responsibility like that," Clark protested. "Brian isn't a little boy. Physically, he's a grown man."
"Maybe, but in every other way he's a child," Martha said in her "no argument" tone. "Your father and I have already talked about this, and decided if your scientist friend was able to save him, he could come stay with us. Brian is part of the family. We Kents have always taken care of our family."
"Now that that part is settled," his father said, "how about Lois? If she saved you from the Kryptonite ..."
"She knows," Clark admitted. "I could hardly expect her not to figure it out. Lois isn't stupid."
"Clark, she's a reporter."
"I haven't really had a chance to talk to her about it yet," Clark said. "I'm going to try to make the time today, if nothing else comes up. She wasn't mad, though -- at least, she didn't seem to be. I can't figure her out most days, anyway," he added. "She's not going to tell anyone, though. I'm sure of that." He gave a snort of amusement. "I guess I was lucky that Brian was there, or she'd probably have killed me."
His mother laughed. "Lois is a woman after my own heart, honey. I guess you're going to have to take your medicine like a man."
"I guess so," Clark said. He glanced at his watch. "I have to go. Perry is going to wonder where I am if I don't show up pretty soon."
"Call us and let us know what happens," his mother ordered. "And talk to Brian. Tell him that we want to meet him."
"I promise," Clark said. "I'll talk to you soon."
Perry was wearing the Armani suit again this morning, Lois noticed when she walked into the newsroom, and through the blinds she could see him fussing with his toupee. The minor mystery of her boss's behavior tickled at her curiosity, and if the last few days had been anywhere near normal, she'd undoubtedly have been snooping around trying to figure out the cause. As it was, anything short of a dead body found in the copy room was unlikely to get her undivided attention.
Jimmy was working at his computer, probably doing research for someone -- possibly even for Clark and her. Lois dropped hastily into her desk chair, opened the bottom drawer of her desk and removed her "Lex file". Slowly and carefully she began to sort through the information it contained, organizing the evidence along with her notes, and adding the small amount that Clark had been able to gather as well. Some of his evidence, she noted, dovetailed nicely with her own. Henderson might very well be able to pin more than one crime on Lex by the time he got through, she thought, but the stuff they had copied from Fabian Leek's laboratory would undoubtedly be the best, at least for now, when -- and if, she reminded herself -- Henderson managed to lay his hands on the originals. Of course, Superman's recording was original. That, if nothing else, should spur him into action.
The elevator door opened, and Clark stepped out. Considering the fact that he usually made use of the stairs, at least when he was alone, this probably meant that his powers still hadn't returned, she thought, with a little pang of concern. She would have to ask him how long that particular state of affairs was likely to continue -- but not until they were alone. She still had to show him that she was trustworthy.
Last night had shown her something else, she thought, watching him as he descended the ramp and crossed the floor toward her. Judging from a couple of his remarks, he had expected something different from her when his secret had been exposed so brutally. He'd seemed surprised that she continued to treat him as she always had instead of immediately going into her former, highly embarrassing behavior toward Superman, or flying off the handle. That wasn't very flattering, but she had to admit that he had some reason to expect one or the other.
Of course, he couldn't know that she had gotten past both those reactions within a few minutes of seeing him with Brian, days ago. Still, she thought she understood now. Clark didn't want to be treated like a celebrity. It made him uncomfortable. He didn't want the adulation of the masses, and most especially he didn't want it from her. Judging from what she knew of her partner, she thought she knew now what he did want, but she was going to have to be very careful. If he thought for a moment that she wanted Clark Kent because of Superman, it would hurt him terribly and make any future relationship between them much more difficult. Very well then, since he seemed to like her best when she treated him as she had been doing since they met, that was the way she would deal with him ... at least, within the newer boundaries she had set herself. He was Clark Kent, a mild-mannered journalist with a really strange hobby. They needed to find time for a completely honest discussion eventually, she knew -- but she still hadn't decided what to say. Well, maybe she could stall it off for a little while longer. After all, there was a lot to do today ...
She replaced the contents of her "Lex file" in its folder and got to her feet as he arrived beside her. "I take it everything went well," she said.
"Brian is with Dr. Klein," Clark said. "I also gave my parents a call."
"Asking for advice," Clark elaborated. "They surprised me. I'll tell you later. Anyway, we still have to talk."
"You know, Clark," Lois said, "'talking' is highly overrated. It'll keep. Let's just deal with Henderson right now, and when we aren't as rushed we'll 'talk'. All right?"
He cast her a worried look. "All right."
She patted his arm. "Give me time, Clark; I'm working on it. Let's take this stuff over to Henderson."
"All right." Clark hesitated. "He's waiting for us."
"Oh?" Lois asked.
"Um ... yeah. Superman made a phone call to him a little while ago and told him we'd be bringing him some information that would interest him. He said he'd try to make time for us."
Lois snorted. "That sounds like Henderson. Okay, partner, let's go."
The sergeant at the desk didn't glance up as Lois and Clark pushed open the heavy, glass doors and entered the small lobby of the 12th Precinct. Hard, wooden benches lined the walls, and a couple of ratty, plastic plants decorated the two corner tables along with their stacks of long out-of-date magazines. Lois didn't hesitate. She rested her arms on the counter and leaned forward until her face almost touched the glass. "Inspector Henderson is expecting us."
"Does he know that, Lane?" he inquired still studying the pages of a magazine that lay on the desk in front of him.
"You bet he does," Lois said.
"Sit down over there and wait," the man said, waving in the direction of a bench. "He's busy right now."
"Superman called to tell him," Lois protested. "We have something he'd want to see."
"Suppose you show it to me and I'll decide how urgent it is," he said, with an air of skepticism.
"Not on your life. This is for Henderson," Lois said.
"Sit down and wait," the sergeant repeated. "It won't be more than half an hour."
"Half an hour!" Lois exclaimed in outrage, "This is urgent!"
"Sergeant Anderson ..." Clark leaned forward, drawing the officer's attention. "This really is urgent. We need to see the Inspector right away, and he is expecting us."
Anderson raised an eyebrow. "Sorry, Clark, I didn't see you. Just a second, and I'll give him a call."
Clark nodded and went to take a seat on one of the benches. After an indecisive moment, Lois followed him. "How come he listens to you and not me?" she whispered in annoyance.
Clark shrugged without looking at her. "Just lucky, I guess."
She opened her mouth to reply when the sergeant spoke up. "You can go in now."
They went past the sergeant's desk, through the door at the rear of the room and down the short hall beyond. Lois glanced at her partner, who was fixedly regarding the toes of his shoes as he walked. "What was that all about?" she demanded in a whisper.
"Uh ..." Clark was clearly uncomfortable with the question. "Nothing."
She stopped, grabbing his sleeve. "Oh no you don't, Clark. He was giving me the runaround, but he didn't give you any trouble at all. And how come he knows your name?"
"Um ... well ..." Clark squirmed. "Look, it's not important. Let's finish with Henderson first, okay?"
"Well ... The sergeant doesn't like you very much."
"I got that part!"
"There isn't much more," Clark said.
"He liked you!"
He shrugged. "Lots of people like me."
"Clark, you're evading."
"Sort of. Remember the piece you did last month about the police getting free doughnuts from the local doughnut shops? I don't think very many cops are too happy with you right now."
"Oh." She made a face. "Okay, so it was a bit petty. I was mad. I'd just got another parking ticket."
"They'll get over it," Clark said.
"But you didn't explain how he knows your name!"
"I know a lot of people," Clark said, mildly.
"How come he was so eager to help you?"
"My mom has an old saying," he said, and now she was sure she could see the corners of his lips quiver. "'You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar'. Come on," he added. "Henderson's waiting for us."
Police Inspector William Henderson was a slender, olive-skinned man of about forty, whom Clark had known since his early days at the Daily Planet. Henderson had made the "poker face" into an art form, and maintained an air of matter-of-fact cynicism in the performance of his job that tended to deceive most persons. He hadn't deceived Clark, and as he got to know the man better, Clark had come to both like and respect him. The officer looked up from the report he was studying when they walked in, and thrust the folder into a drawer.
"This better be as important as Superman said it is," he said.
"I think you'll agree when we explain," Clark said. He glanced at Lois. "Do you want to tell him, or shall I?"
"Lex Luthor," Lois said.
Henderson didn't react overtly but Clark heard his heart speed up, and his bodily reactions told him that they had the man's full attention.
"Luthor? What about him?" Henderson asked with deceptive mildness.
"Is that all you have to say?" Lois began, but Clark took her hand unobtrusively and squeezed. She glanced at him and stopped.
"Yes, Luthor," Clark said as mildly as Henderson had spoken. "We've been investigating him for some time. We have some information we think you should see."
Henderson glanced at Lois. "I thought you were seeing him, Lois," he remarked. "Your picture is on the society page this morning -- and there's an interesting article about Superman scooping you up just as you were about to get into his limousine. Care to explain?"
"Since when do you read the society pages, Henderson?" she asked, and Clark could read irritation in her voice.
"You'd be surprised what I read," Henderson replied, imperturbably. "It's a good way to keep track of what some people are doing."
"Well, I was investigating him -- or haven't you ever heard of going undercover?" she replied.
"The concept isn't entirely foreign to me," he replied, and Clark saw the faintest crinkling at the corners of his eyes. "So you weren't as blind as I thought you were. What did you want to show me?"
"This." Lois laid her folder on his desk. "Some of it is evidence we've been collecting for several months, but the most important part is the stuff we've discovered in the last week. Superman made a recording for us that you should listen to, and we've got copies of things that his partner in crime has been collecting -- for his own protection, we think."
"That would be Dr. Fabian Leek," Henderson said. "If you've found out what they're up to, you're a step ahead of me. Of course, if history is any indicator, some of your methods are more creative than the police department is permitted."
"You know about Dr. Leek?" Lois asked, and even Clark was aware of a slight sense of surprise.
"Unofficially," Henderson said. "Let's say I've had an interest in LexCorp's activities, and those of its owner for some time. When he starts taking a personal interest in somebody like Dr. Leek, I want to know why."
"In that case," Clark said, "we can help you. You should probably listen to Superman's recording first. The other tapes and documents are copies, but the originals are in the desk in Leek's private lab."
Henderson took the folder that Lois handed him. "Care to give me a summary?"
Lois and Clark looked at each other. "How much time have you got?" Lois asked.
"As much as I need. Have a seat," Henderson said, and Clark could sense the suppressed eagerness in the man, although he would probably die before he would admit it. He let Lois choose the most comfortable seat and then took the other one.
"First," Lois said, "we need your word that if anything comes of this, the Planet gets the exclusive."
"Sounds fair to me," Henderson said. "You have my word."
"All right," Lois said. "Why don't you start, Clark?"
He nodded. "All right. It all started a few days ago ..."
Henderson listened mostly in silence, only occasionally interjecting a question. Ten minutes into the explanation, he held up his hand and punched his intercom. "Frieda, make sure I'm not disturbed," he said.
"Yes sir," a woman's voice said, crisply.
Henderson turned back to them. "Go on," he said. "A clone of Superman. If I didn't have the pictures --" he gestured at the graphic images spread out on his desk, "and if it wasn't the two of you telling me this, I'd think it was science fiction."
"So would I," Clark said. "Until we met him ..."
"You're sure it was a clone?"
"He, Bill. Not it. He was like a child in Superman's body," Lois said. "And yes, we're sure. I saw them both together, both with super powers ..."
When they had finally finished, Henderson was silent for nearly a minute. Finally, he shook his head sharply. "I've seen cold-blooded schemes in this business," he said, "but this one takes the cake. I want to listen to Superman's recording. If it's as graphic as you say, I may be able to get a search warrant for Leek's laboratory on the basis of the tape alone. Where did you say the evidence is?"
"It was in the bottom right drawer of the desk, in the lab that connects to Leek's office," Clark said. "Hopefully, it's still there."
"Right. And with any luck, I won't have to tell a judge about your more unorthodox methods of investigation. In the meantime, if you see the clone again -- if he's still alive -- tell him to come see me." Henderson picked up the tape in question, obviously terminating the interview. "I know exactly the judge I'm going to bring in on this. I'll let you know what happens."
"Do you think we should have Brian drop by to see Henderson?" Lois asked as she was unlocking the door to the Cherokee. "It would probably help back up our story."
"Maybe," Clark said, doubtfully. He opened the door and got in. "As long as he doesn't say the wrong thing. And if he's not too scared to go."
"You could explain everything to him," Lois said, as she climbed into the driver's seat. "He trusts you -- besides, Brian may be a kid, but he learns pretty fast."
"He certainly does," Clark agreed. "I guess we could ask him. If we went with him, he'd probably go along with it, but we'd have to be careful. We don't want Luthor to realize he's alive and cooperating with the enemy."
"Maybe we could set it up so Henderson comes to see him," Lois said. "It might be safer. I'm not sure we should tell him what's happening, though -- Henderson, that is. Do we want anyone to know that Superman's brother is still alive and healthy?"
"I just don't like to lie to Henderson," Clark said.
"What are you talking about?"
"About Brian. We've more or less inferred that he was going to die, too."
"He is," Lois said. "At least as far as his current identity." She started to turn the key, then paused and to Clark's surprise, rested a hand on his knee. "Think about it, Clark. You lie to the world every day. You're -- well, you know. Don't get me wrong; I know why you do it, and it makes sense, but you let people assume that something about you -- isn't. That's what we're going to do for him. He's going to die and become someone else -- and leave a chapter of his life behind him forever. It's the only way he can have a future, and you know it."
"I suppose so." He watched her as she started the engine and pulled out of their parking space. "You understand why I didn't tell you?"
She made a face. "I didn't say that, but actually, I think I do. I kind of went crazy over Superman -- and I guess I gave you a pretty good reason not to trust me."
"When I kind of lost my mind and went all out to find Superman. I even stole your story. I can understand why you didn't trust me."
She shook her head. "I don't blame you. You were protecting your parents and friends as well as yourself. I showed you that, given the right temptation, I'd violate my principles. You had a good reason to think I'd blow your cover completely." She bit her lip. "I probably would have, back then, too -- but not anymore. I mean, I do want a Pulitzer someday, but not at that price." She barely dodged a fuel truck and Clark winced. "I think I was temporarily insane, doing what I did. I felt bad about it even then, but I wasn't able to make myself apologize. Instead, I rationalized that I was teaching you something for your own good -- but I really knew better. I couldn't admit out loud that I was wrong, even when I knew it. I can't believe how petty I was."
"That's all in the past, Lois," Clark said quietly. "I trust you completely. I thought you knew that."
She swiped at her eyes, and Clark grabbed the wheel. "Let's pull over for a minute, okay? There's a parking lot coming up right up there."
She nodded and sniffled loudly, but turned into the entrance that he had pointed out and pulled into the nearest parking space. One wheel of the Jeep resided well across the line in the adjoining space, but Clark didn't even blink at the sad attempt at parking. Instead, he unfastened his seat belt, reached across and took both her hands. "Lois, it's all right. Really."
She shook her head and sniffled again. Clark removed the handkerchief from his breast pocket and pressed it into her hands. Lois wiped her eyes and blew her nose soundly. He said nothing, waiting patiently while his partner regained her composure.
"Better?" he asked, finally.
"You have nothing to be sorry for," he said. "Lois, I understand."
"That's more than I do," she said. "Clark, I have one more confession to make."
"You don't ..."
"Yes, I do. It's important." He could see her draw a deep, shaking breath. "The other day, when we first met Brian -- where he caught that hostage-taker -- that was the day I realized you were Superman -- or that Superman was you. I saw the two of you side by side. You were looking over the tops of your glasses at him, and it suddenly hit me. I was pretty mad at you, at first. Then I started to think."
He frowned at her, taking in what she was saying. "You knew, and you didn't tell me?"
She nodded. "I was pretty mad," she repeated, "for about fifteen minutes. Then I started to think about why you hadn't told me. After that, I was ashamed of myself. I realized the person I had most to blame was me. I'd acted like a fool over Superman and treated you like a second-class citizen right from the start, even though you showed everybody what a darned good journalist you were. I guess I just couldn't admit I was wrong, and after I got to know you, I realized just how wrong that was."
"That was months ago," Clark said. "We got to be friends after that, Lois."
"Yeah, we did. I still didn't completely trust you, though. Until after I got dosed with the pheromone, and then Lex tried to kill you ..." She broke off and blew her nose again. "It really scared me, and after that, I promised myself I'd treat you better, but I didn't," she continued. "Or not much, anyway. The other night when you came over to help me with the mattress, I'd just promised myself that I really would do better -- and then we met Brian, and I realized just what I'd done. Clark, I'm so sorry. I've really messed everything up, and now you probably won't want to have anything to do with me," she finished miserably.
Clark had listened to her confession at first with surprise, then with dismay, and finally with relief. Among all the jumbled sentences of his partner's confession, he heard none of the hero-worship that had characterized the early days of her relationship with Superman. Lois was trying heroically to explain, and doing better than she probably thought she was at the task.
"I wouldn't say that," he said.
"Lois, if I trusted you enough to send Brian to get you last night, you have to know I trust you pretty thoroughly," he said. "I've been trying to figure out how to tell you about Superman for some time, like I told you last night. I just hadn't worked up the nerve yet." He removed the crumpled handkerchief from her hands and dabbed at a stray tear on her cheek. "I believe you; I honestly do. Can't we just forget it and be friends?"
She took the handkerchief back and blew her nose again. "Are you sure?" she asked. "I messed everything up. I was trying to show you you could trust me, and after last night, I didn't know what to do. I should have told you right away, but I thought if I did, I'd never be able to make you believe I was over my crush, and liked you for yourself. And I do!" she asserted with unnecessary emphasis.
"Well, if you go on treating me the same way, I'm sure I won't have any trouble believing it," he said. "Look at it this way. Now that you know, I won't have to make stupid excuses to run off and save the day anymore. You can make the stupid excuses for me."
"Kent," she said, "no excuse I make for you could possibly be as lame as some of the ones you've come up with!"
Definitely better. "We'll see," he said, unintentionally repeating the words he had spoken to her after her return from the sewage reclamation facility.
"Care to bet?" she asked.
"Okay. Let's see what you say the next time I take off out of the blue."
"It's a deal! But you get to cook me a steak dinner if I do better than your last one!"
"Which one was that?"
"'I left my story notes in the car'? Give me a break!"
"Okay, it's a deal," he said. "Just make sure it's believable."
"Oh, I will; you can count on it!"
They were nearly to the Daily Planet when Lois thought to ask him the question that had occurred to her some time before. "Your powers -- have they come back yet?"
He shook his head. "My hearing is starting to improve a little. I could hear Bill's heartbeat when you mentioned Lex Luthor, but that's it so far."
"But they're going to come back?"
He nodded. "I'd say it looks like it. This only happened to me once before -- in Smallville, as you already guessed, but since my hearing is coming back, I'd say it's just a matter of time."
"That's a relief. Really, Clark, you need to be more careful now that we know this stuff is out there -- and more important, that Lex knows it too. Have you ever thought about taking a few steps for self-defense?"
"What do you mean, self-defense?"
She gave a small snort of exasperation. "Clark, sometimes you can be awfully dense! Am I right in thinking that your ship landed in Kansas somewhere near Smallville?"
"Well, yes. In Shuster's Field, actually."
"And Wayne Irig found that meteorite nearby, right?"
"Right. On his farm."
"Have you ever thought of going back to where he found it and finding any others that came in at the same time? I mean, you could hover in the air and spot them with your special vision, couldn't you? Then, since it doesn't hurt humans, maybe you could get your dad to help you. Heck, even I'd help you if you wanted me to! We could collect them for you and put them in lead, like the piece at your apartment. Then you could get rid of them -- throw them into space or something."
"We don't know they all came in there," Clark said.
"No, they probably didn't," she agreed, aware that she was going into what he called 'babbling mode', but not really caring, "but it's a heck of a coincidence that Mr. Irig found that rock so close by the spot where your ship landed. Maybe it somehow pulled some of the chunks along. Well, it would have had to, really. How else would it have gotten all the way from wherever Krypton was to Earth in such a short time? I mean, normally they couldn't travel faster than light like your ship, could they? So a lot of it probably is in the general area. Even if it isn't all there, it would sure cut down on the chances of somebody finding more of it and using it against you. You really ought to do something about it before somebody else -- like Lex -- decides to hunt around Mr. Irig's farm and finds some more!"
Clark looked at her in astonishment. "You know, you're right! I never thought about it before. I really don't want this to happen again, and since Brian is probably going to be in the area, it would probably be a good idea, anyway."
"What about Brian?" Lois asked.
"I called my parents to talk to them. I told you that his morning," Clark reminded her. "My mom said that they want Brian to come and live with them, since he's my brother, and they could teach him how to be an adult. If he agrees, it would be the ideal solution. He couldn't have two better parents. I know that from experience."
"Clark, that would be perfect!"
"That's what I thought. We're going to have to figure out how to get him a Social Security number, but there are ways of proving someone's an American citizen without a birth certificate. There are still a few places in the country where kids are often born at home and never get one -- especially back in 1966 when I was born. And he is a native of the United States, after all. We wouldn't be lying."
"Appalachia, maybe," Lois suggested. "He could be your cousin. If you show up to vouch for him, no county official could miss the resemblance."
"That's true," Clark said. "After I get my powers back, I'll fly out and do what you suggested. It could save us a lot of trouble in the future."
"That's for sure. What did you do with the piece from last night?"
"It's still in my apartment. I figured I'll wait until my powers come back and toss it into the sun or something. Or I could give it to Dr. Klein to test. It might be a good idea to know more about it."
"It can't hurt," Lois said. "You trust him, don't you?"
"Bernie Klein? Sure."
"Then take it to him when your powers come back," Lois advised. She pulled into the entrance to the Planet's garage and a moment later they got out of the Jeep and headed toward the elevator.
When they stepped out of the elevator, the first thing Lois saw was the massive bouquet of two dozen red roses sitting on her desk. Cat slithered past them as they made their way toward their workstations, glancing casually at Lois. "Send yourself roses again, Lois?"
Lois ignored her. "I guess you didn't send those," she remarked.
"I'm afraid not," Clark said. "I can guess who did, though."
"Lex," Lois said, sounding resigned, even to herself. "What am I going to say if he proposes, Clark? I don't want to agree to marry him, but if I turn him down completely, I'll lose my inside track with him."
"Well," Clark said, "I suppose you could tell him you have to think about it. It would gain you some time. Or maybe you should pull the line about needing to get to know him better."
"I don't know how he'd take that," Lois said. "Lex is used to getting what he wants."
"Well, it may not matter, if he winds up under arrest," Clark said.
"I hope not." Lois opened the card that was attached to the bouquet. "'Love, Lex. I'll call you soon'. Great."
"I've got that stuff for you," Jimmy said, as he passed them with a stack of folders that reached his chin. "Back in a minute."
True to his word, he returned a moment later and laid several pieces of paper on her desk. "It took me most of the morning to hack into LexCorp's accounting records but I tracked down the cash transfers for you." He indicated the first page. "They went through a dummy company, but the originating source was Lexel Investments."
"LexCorp," Lois said. "It's not exactly a surprise, but they seem to be getting a bit careless."
"Overconfidence," Clark said. "So LexCorp is trying to launch a hostile takeover of the Daily Planet."
"Looks like it," Lois said. "Lex wants to control one of the most reputable papers in the world. That's scary."
"We'd better show this to Perry," Clark said. "He needs to know."
"Definitely," Lois said. "Thanks, Jimmy. That was good work."
"Put in a good word for me with Perry, will you?" Jimmy said. "I could use the brownie points."
"Will do," Clark said. "You certainly deserve it. Let's go, Lois."
"LexCorp?" Perry White scanned the printouts that Jimmy had provided. "And you two are thinkin' corporate takeover, huh?"
"I think so, Perry," Lois said. "This whole thing fits the first step in LexCorp's pattern when it makes a corporate takeover. Financial trouble that no one can trace -- only no one else had Jimmy to track down the source of the trouble. If we manage to keep going in spite of the financial troubles, after while there will be more substantial problems, then, when our stock drops, they'll move in with an offer to buy at pennies on the dollar. I've done some research on a bunch of its takeovers. Always the same pattern."
"You've researched this?"
"Yes I have. I've been investigating Luthor and LexCorp for months."
Perry scratched his hairline and then stopped when he nearly dislodged his toupee. Lois didn't comment. "I thought you were seein' him."
"I am," she said. "I guess I was pretty convincing. I've been dating him to investigate him."
Perry raised an eyebrow. "Playin' with fire," he remarked. "Lex Luthor didn't become a self-made man by bein' soft."
"I know, Chief, but he isn't just a tough businessman. Clark and I think he's a criminal. We've been trying to prove it."
Perry's eyebrows climbed higher. "And have you?"
"Let's say we've found some pretty good evidence," Lois said. "We'll keep working on it. I don't think the Planet would do very well with him as CEO. Lex is a micro-manager if I ever knew one -- at least about certain things."
Perry blew out his breath. "Okay. Try and keep me informed. Make me some copies of this stuff -- and send Jimmy in here when you leave."
"Will do." Clark opened the door for Lois and closed it carefully after them. "I'm going to give Dr. Klein a call," he said. "I want to talk to Brian, and arrange a meeting with Henderson."
"Where do you think it should be?" Lois asked.
"How about my place? Brian seems to feel pretty comfortable there."
"That sounds good." Lois beckoned to Jimmy. "Perry wants to see you."
Jimmy looked worried. "I'm not in trouble, am I?"
"I don't think so." Lois glanced at the collar he still wore. "How's your neck today?"
"Sore," Jimmy said. "I brought the aspirin bottle with me. It'll be all right."
"Well, just take it easy today. Nobody's going to blame you. Neck injuries can be serious stuff."
"I know. Superman said the same thing." Jimmy seemed to gather his courage and knocked on the door to the editor's office. Lois took the printouts.
"While you're doing that, I'll copy these for Perry. I don't know about you, but I'm hungry. Maybe when I'm done, we could go get some lunch."
"Sounds good to me," Clark said. "I'm starving."
The thought occurred to her while she was making the copies that although she had always known that Clark liked to eat, she had never heard him complain of real hunger before. What was it that Superman had told her in the beginning? Something about not needing to eat, but liking to. Chalk up one more little piece of information about her partner. But if he didn't get his energy from food, where did he get it? What had Dr. Klein said about Brian? The addition of the frog DNA chain had somehow permanently impaired his ability to absorb sunlight, even after his body rejected the foreign DNA, so Superman's energy came from sunlight, like plants. Well, what did it matter, anyway? He sure didn't look like a dandelion or any other kind of plant she could think of. When he was wearing the Suit, he looked like a very well constructed specimen of Homo sapiens and that was good enough for her. And although their future relationship might not be completely clear sailing, at least she knew that he did trust her. It was a promising start.
Emerging from the copy room minutes later, she saw Clark standing by her desk, the phone to his ear. He saw her, spoke to whoever was on the other end, and set the receiver down.
"Who was that?" she asked, setting the small stack of papers next to her computer. "I made an extra copy of this stuff so we'd each have one, by the way."
Clark put his lips close to her ear and lowered his voice so that she could barely hear him. "Believe it or not, that was Henderson. They presented their search warrant at Leek's laboratory, searched the place and found the evidence we told him about, plus considerably more. He actually thanked us."
"He must be getting soft," Lois said, automatically. "That was fast. Did he say anything else?"
"They've taken Leek in for questioning."
"I hope Lex doesn't find out about it," Lois said.
"Henderson said the only person who knew what was going on was Leek," Clark said. "They were pretty quiet about it. Henderson doesn't want Luthor to hear about it too soon either, you know."
"Well, let's hope Leek doesn't call Lex for help," she said, dryly. "The only help he's likely to get is twenty-to-life. If he's lucky."
"I doubt he'd have collected all that evidence if he had any real confidence in Luthor," Clark pointed out. "Give Henderson some credit. He's pretty smart. If I had to bet, I'd lay odds that Leek spills his guts."
"So would I," Lois said. "Let me take these copies to Perry, then we can go get some lunch. How about Jose's?"
"Sounds good to me," Clark said.
"Are you sure you don't prefer another restaurant?" Lois asked, as the elevator bore them toward the basement.
"No, Jose's is fine, unless you've changed your mind," Clark said.
"Not really; it just occurred to me that you always let me pick the place, so I've never found out what you prefer. I thought maybe you'd like to make the choice this time."
Clark grinned. "I've tasted cuisine from every culture," he told her. "I have a very wide range of favorites."
"Really? That's right, you said you traveled the world after college. Do you speak any other languages besides English?"
"Oh, a few. I can order dinner in 347 languages."
"Wow. I'm lucky if I can remember muy bien, gracias."
"The accent is on the first syllable."
"See what I mean?"
Clark grinned at her. "Don't worry. If we ever end up in any foreign countries, I can handle the conversation."
"You'll have to," Lois said. "Just remember, you're going to have to answer some questions when we get the time, pal."
"Sure," Clark said. "Let's just get this mess squared away, and when we can get a few minutes of peace and quiet, I'll answer any questions you want."
Lois nodded. "Don't think I'll let you forget, either." The doors slid open and they exited in the direction of the Cherokee. "So Mexican is okay?"
"It's fine. I'm thinking the Nachos Grande and guacamole dip with cheese smothered chips."
"I can foresee a two-hour workout at the gym this evening," Lois said, without rancor. "Oh well, life is more than dieting, anyway." She took out her key ring as they circled a nondescript station wagon and approached the Jeep.
A figure stepped from behind one of the big concrete sections that supported the building above them, and Lois stared unbelieving at Nigel St. John. The prim, white-haired man looked the perfect gentleman's gentleman. He was impeccably attired in a suit and tie, and his face was the perfectly expressionless mask that Lois had grown to know over the months that she had dated Lex Luthor. But the .38 in his hand was completely out of character for the image that he had always projected, and it was pointed directly at her.
"Miss Lane," he greeted them, "Mr. Kent. My master has directed me to bring you to him." He gestured toward the station wagon. "Get in, please."
The station wagon pulled unobtrusively through a back entrance leading into the private parking area beneath LexTower that was reserved for Lex Luthor's fleet of limousines. The driver, the turbaned man that Lois knew as Asabi, never glanced at the two of them or at Nigel St. John, who sat in the passenger seat, his handgun aimed unwaveringly at Lois. Asabi pulled the car smoothly into a corner parking space and cut the engine.
St. John backed out of the car, keeping his weapon centered on Lois. "Get out, Miss Lane," he said, expressionlessly.
Lois did so, careful to make no sudden moves. When she was standing beside the car, St. John raised his voice slightly. "Now you, Mr. Kent."
Clark got out beside her. Lois glanced at her partner's tense face and set jaw. The only thing that was holding him back, she thought, was the certainty that St. John would pull the trigger if Clark attacked him and might seriously injure or kill her. For all his age, Nigel St. John gripped the .38 with casual and competent familiarity. The man knew how to handle a gun.
Lois bit her lip. The problem was, of course, that Clark didn't have his super powers, and might well take chances that he shouldn't out of sheer habit -- chances that could easily get him killed. She laid a hand lightly on his wrist and he glanced down at her.
"Don't do anything, Clark," she said quietly.
His eyes locked with hers for a second, and she felt some of the tension drain out of him. He nodded slightly.
"Very wise of you, Mr. Kent." St. John's icy voice broke into the moment. "I really have no wish to kill you. Mr. Luthor would be most annoyed if it became necessary. This way, please."
He beckoned with his free hand and they obeyed, walking slowly in the direction he indicated.
In the wall beside the spot where they had parked, Lois saw an unobtrusive door -- a private elevator, she realized, probably for the benefit of the chauffeur and other members of the staff. Behind them, Nigel spoke.
"Call the elevator, Mr. Kent."
Obediently, Clark rang for the car. While they waited, Lois glanced unobtrusively around, assessing the situation.
They might run, but with St. John so close, it was probable that one of them would be shot before they got very far. And the man had positioned himself directly behind them, but not quite close enough that either she or Clark would have any chance of catching him by surprise. No, her first thought had been the right one -- to cooperate, and stay alive, to fight only if it looked as if one of them was going to be killed. Clark had said that his super hearing was coming back. Perhaps his other super powers wouldn't be far behind. If the two of them could hold out until that happened, it would solve all their problems at once.
The elevator door slid open and St. John spoke again. "Go inside. Face the wall and lace your fingers behind your heads."
Meekly, Lois obeyed. Clark did also. She could almost feel the rebellion in every line of his body, but to her relief, he made no objection to the command. The elevator doors closed, and she felt the car begin to rise. It seemed slow, but that wasn't a problem. The longer things took, the better. It gave Clark's powers that much longer to return.
Still, slow as the elevator was, it was still too soon when they slid to a stop and the door popped open with a soft, pneumatic sigh.
There was movement behind them, and then St. John's voice said, "Turn around."
The elevator opened on the main hallway of the penthouse, and to the right was the door to Lex's study.
"This way, please. Into the study." The butler's relentless courtesy, even in the act of kidnapping them, made chills crawl across her scalp. No doubt he would be equally polite while committing murder. Lois obeyed the order, already expecting what met her eyes when she entered the familiar room. Lex was sitting at his desk, his back to the French windows, regarding her with a faint smile on his lips.
"My dear Lois," he said, rising to his feet, "do come in. Welcome, Mr. Kent. Nigel, see to our guests' refreshment, if you please."
"Immediately, sir," St. John replied in his most expressionless voice.
"Sit down, my dear." Lex gestured to the armchairs that faced his desk. "Be comfortable."
Lois slowly crossed the room and sank into one of the chairs. Lex remained standing until Clark had also taken a chair, then casually reseated himself.
It was difficult to read his expression, Lois thought. With his back to the bright sunlight streaming in the French windows, his face was shadowed, but she thought he was smiling.
Silently, Nigel St. John set a glass of wine on the table next to her, and then did the same for Clark. Neither of them showed the slightest interest in the refreshment. Lois remained silent, let the silence lengthen between them. Stall, she reminded herself.
"Are you comfortable?" Lex inquired politely.
"Very good. Don't you want to ask why you've been brought here?"
"I figured you were going to tell us," Lois said. "I thought the gun was a bit melodramatic, but when someone pulls one on me, I don't ask questions."
"As always, a woman of rare intelligence," Lex said. "My dear, I wish it hadn't been necessary, but once I realized that the Superman who scooped you up last night was the thing I created, I began to add a few things together."
Lois's heart leaped treacherously in her chest and began to pound more vigorously, but she gave no outward sign of her reaction to this most unwelcome news. "What the dickens are you talking about?" she said.
"The thing that scooped you up last night," Lex repeated, with false patience. "It was my creation. Don't pretend you don't know it, Lois. The differences become apparent fairly quickly."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," she said. "What do you mean, 'your creation'?"
Lex raised his brows. "My dear, you aren't stupid, so don't pretend you are. I repeat: the thing I created. My Superman. He's a child in all but body. The way he abducted you just as you were stepping into my limousine was not the behavior of Superman. Once I realized that, the rest was obvious."
She wished he would stop calling her his dear, but didn't comment. Instead, it might be time to admit a little knowledge. "The imposter? You're behind him?"
He frowned. "Of course I am. I realized, of course, that you knew when I discovered the theft."
"What theft? Lex, you're talking in riddles!"
"The theft of the lock of hair," he said, patiently. "And, of course, of the Kryptonite. There was only one way a thief could get in here without leaving a trace, open my vault and take those two items, and there was only one person who would want them: Superman. You paved the way for him very cleverly, didn't you -- with that little performance last night. What I would like to know is how long have the two of you been working with him against me -- and where is my clone?"
"'Clone'?" Lois said, incredulously. "What the hell are you talking about, Lex?"
"The Superman imposter, of course, as you know. I have to give you credit, my dear. No one but Lois Lane could have figured it out." He regarded her with what she could swear was open admiration. "A phone call to Mrs. Doyle Alexander confirmed it, of course -- that the Daily Planet had inquired about the theft of the lock of hair. That was when I knew that you had put the pieces together." He smiled at her. "What were you going to do with the information, Lois? How did you intend to prove such a wild story?"
At least, she thought, he apparently hadn't realized that she and Clark had figured out that Leek was his accomplice. She shut her mouth tightly. Lex watched her with an amused smile. "You see," he said, "I'm not quite so stupid as you thought. I suppose that with anyone else, I would simply have you killed. That is, no doubt, what I should do, but I don't really want to."
She felt her eyes widen. His smile broadened slightly. "Where is my clone, Lois?"
She shrugged. "I have no idea. I haven't seen either him or Superman since last night."
"Apparently, neither has anyone else," Lex said. "One of the things Superman stole was the Kryptonite. I imagine it was quite a surprise to him when he opened the box, so perhaps I don't need to worry about him anymore. And, of course, the clone hasn't long to live, so I may be unnecessarily concerned. In any case, you and your partner here are my one remaining problem, now." He studied her with that faint smile. "I have a bargain to offer you."
"A bargain! What are you talking about?"
He stood and moved out to stand beside his desk. "Come here."
Lois didn't budge. He smiled and extended a hand. "I'm not going to hurt you unless you force me to. Mr. Kent, however, is another matter. His continued health and safety depend on you. Come here."
She cast an uncertain look at Clark and got to her feet. Lex took her hand and led her to the French windows.
"I want you to take a final look at Metropolis, because this is the last time either of you will see it."
"What does that mean?" she demanded.
"I've been in love with you for months," he said simply. "The incident with Miranda's pheromone brought it to my attention, of course. I admired your intelligence and courage, and naturally your beauty, but it wasn't until then that I realized how unique you were, and knew that I wanted you for my wife."
Lois stared at him in shock. He didn't seem to notice. "I can't, however, allow you to remain free to work against me," he continued. "You're far too dangerous. I know that you don't love me. If anything, your preference is for Mr. Kent." He glanced at Clark, and to her astonishment, she saw sheer hatred cross his features for just an instant. "However, that doesn't have to be a barrier."
"What on Earth are you talking about?"
He ignored the interruption. "If I can't have your love," he continued, "I can at least have you, so I propose a bargain."
His smile had returned. "You will become my wife, Lois. Tonight we'll fly via my private jet, to my fortress in the Alps, and you will live out the rest of your life there -- as my wife."
"You're out of your mind!"
"And," he continued, as if she hadn't spoken, "if you do this, I will allow Mr. Kent to live. Not only live, but to live in luxury, and more importantly, to remain healthy."
"Mr. Kent goes with us," he said, and the smile disappeared. "You'll be allowed to see him once a day to assure yourself of his continued good health. But if you defy me, or attempt to escape --" He paused for emphasis. "Killing him won't be necessary," he finished. "A great many things can be done to a human being without killing him. Do you understand me, Lois?" He looked into her eyes, and now all signs of amusement had vanished. "That is my bargain."
Lois stared back at him, appalled. The pheromone, her thoughts babbled silently. It had to be the effects of the one hundred percent pheromone. There wasn't any other way to explain such an incredible scheme.
Lex smiled again. "Why don't you and Mr. Kent step out on the balcony and discuss this," he said, pleasantly. "Enjoy the sunlight, because you'll never see it again, and bear in mind that if either of you raises your voice to call for Superman, Mr. Kent will be dead before he arrives."
Clark listened in silence as Luthor laid out his plan. The man had to be insane, he thought as he made his way slowly to the French windows. Insane or obsessed. Lois followed him out and Luthor seated himself once more in the desk chair, and swiveled around so he could watch their every move without turning his head. Behind Luthor, Nigel St. John stood silent and expressionless, fingering the .38.
Neither tried to close the French windows. Lois threw an uncertain glance at Luthor, then leaned her forearms on the stone wall of the balcony.
"How are you feeling?" Her voice was pitched so low that it couldn't have been heard five feet away.
Clark leaned on the wall next to her. "Normal."
"I'm going to accept his bargain," she said. "Stall, until --"
It was the logical and reasonable thing to do, he realized. It would keep them both alive and healthy until his powers returned and he could turn the tables on Luthor, but the whole idea went against the grain. The streak of possessiveness that he had become aware of the night Brian had kissed Lois raised its hackles in helpless protest. "Lois --"
"Clark, it's the only way to get us out of this," she said. "It's Miranda's pheromone, don't you see? He's obsessed with me."
He glanced over his shoulder. Luthor had risen to his feet and was strolling casually toward them. He stepped out on the balcony.
"Have you decided?" he asked politely.
Lois opened her mouth to reply when another element was added to the equation.
There was a scuffling of feet and the sound of raised voices in the hall beyond the study doors, and William Henderson, accompanied by four uniformed officers, stepped into the room, weapons drawn.
"Drop it, St. John!" Henderson barked.
Nigel's .38 fell to the carpet with a muffled thud.
Two officers moved forward to cuff the unresisting butler, but Henderson was striding past him toward the trio on the balcony, his own police special in his hand. "Lex Luthor, you're under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney ..."
Luthor didn't pause. He must, Clark realized later, have known at that instant that the game was up, for he grabbed Lois by the waist and swung her in front of him. Clark saw his partner try to break free, but Luthor countered the martial arts move without effort. Somehow, he was holding a small pistol of his own, though in the confusion Clark hadn't seen him draw it, and he pressed it to Lois's temple. Henderson stopped in mid-step, and Clark froze in place.
"Keep back, Inspector." For all the drama of the situation, Luthor's voice was inhumanly calm.
"Let her go, Luthor," Henderson said. "You can't get away."
Luthor's lips stretched in a humorless smile. "On the contrary," he said, "There's still one way out." He swung one leg over the stone wall, still holding Lois tightly against him. She made a convulsive attempt to escape, but he clamped his arm around her. "Lex Luthor will not live in a cage," he said.
In an instant, he had swung his other leg over the wall. Lois cried out. Clark leaped forward, grasping for her, and Luthor pushed himself away from the wall, dragging Lois after him.
Clark was off-balance, all of his weight thrown into his desperate lunge for Lois, and he had barely grasped her arm when the sudden jerk yanked him forward. He somersaulted over the barrier; then he was falling, trying instinctively to fly, without results. He heard Lois scream, and insanely, Lex Luthor's triumphant laugh. The sounds were whipped away on the wind as they plunged helplessly toward the pavement two hundred stories below.
The wind roaring past his ears made it hard to think, but the incredibly smug expression on Luthor's face jolted Clark's brain into belated action. Luthor thought he had won by taking them over the edge with him, but he and Lois had an ace-in-the-hole.
Brian! He thought the words at his twin as loudly as he could. Brian, help!
A scream for help almost certainly wouldn't have worked. There were too many noises in the city, and his brother hadn't learned to "listen" the way he did for that certain kind of call, but the response to his mental SOS was immediate. Brian's startled reply resounded through his brain. Where are you?
LexTower! We're falling! Help!
They were gaining speed every second, the wind whistling past Clark's ears like a hurricane. Somehow, he managed to "swim" in the manner of a skydiver to where his partner flailed helplessly in free fall, and closed his arms around her. She clung to him tightly and he could see that her eyes were squeezed shut. The ground was rushing toward them at warp speed, and still there was no sign of Brian.
No! The red and blue of Superman's uniform was suddenly within his range of vision, but there was something wrong. Brian's flight was too slow and unsteady. His brother's powers were failing, he realized in dismay, but in spite of his obvious difficulty, Brian had come to help.
He saw them and seemed to exert all his strength. It was strange how, even in these desperate circumstances, Clark could feel the boy's thoughts. His whole body hurt, and the effort of flight was almost too much, but he had to reach them! He had to!
Then, he was there. Brian grabbed the two of them in one arm, and Clark could sense the boy struggling to hold them, fighting to keep his altitude. Slowly, they started to fall. He threw an arm around his brother's shoulders to take some of the strain and gripped Lois with the other.
"Take us down!" he shouted. "Get us on the ground! Quick!"
Brian nodded and obeyed. They swept toward the pavement, barely in control. Clark only hoped his twin could stop them before they all became pavement pizza together. Then he saw what Brian was trying to do.
"Hang on!" his brother gasped.
Clark nodded and gripped him tighter as Brian reached out with his free hand to grab Luthor by the arm.
The billionaire saw him, and to Clark's horror, began to struggle.
"Let me go, damn you!" he shouted.
The burden was too much. Brian's flight was rapidly becoming an out-of-control plunge. And then it happened. Luthor wrested his arm free and fell. Brian nearly fell too, as he fought to regain control.
"Father!" he screamed.
"Don't look!" Clark commanded. There was nothing any of them could do.
Brian brought them to a rough, half-controlled landing on the sidewalk, seconds later, his face a mask of distress.
"I couldn't hold on," he whispered.
Clark put an arm around his shoulders. "Don't look," he said again. "It wasn't your fault. You tried."
"I couldn't," Brian whispered. "I couldn't hold him."
Lois grasped his other arm. "Even Superman can't save everybody," she said firmly. "You did your best, Brian. That's all anyone can do. He didn't want you to save him."
Tears were running down Brian's cheeks, but he nodded, looking determinedly away from the thing that had been Lex Luthor. Clark turned to Lois.
"He's losing his powers," he said. "Get him back to Dr. Klein right away. Minutes count. I'll deal with Henderson."
"Do you think you can still fly?" Lois asked Brian.
The boy nodded, the tears still trickling down his face.
"Then let's go," Lois told him. "There's nothing more you can do here." She patted his shoulder. "It's all right," she said, more gently. "You saved our lives. Now it's time for you to let us save yours."
It was hours later, and the sun had already set, when Inspector Henderson delivered Clark to STAR Labs. As he started to open the door, the Police Inspector reached out to shake his hand.
"Thanks, Clark," he said. "I owe you and Lois one, as much as I hate to admit it. We've been after The Boss for a long time, but no one dared to say out loud that The Boss was probably Lex Luthor. Now that he's gone, I have the feeling that a lot of unsolved crimes are going to change their status." He leaned back in the driver's seat. "You and Lois nearly gave me a heart attack on the spot this afternoon. I know Lois makes a habit of falling off buildings on a semi-regular basis, but it doesn't seem exactly your style. Try not to do it too often, okay?"
"Believe me, if it never happens to me again, it'll still be about a thousand years too soon," Clark said. "We were just lucky that Brian was still able to fly."
Henderson nodded soberly. "I hope he's okay," he said. "He may be only a copy of Superman, but he's a genuine hero in my book. Tell him I said so, would you?"
"I will," Clark said. "Are you sure you don't want to tell him in person?"
Henderson shook his head. "Superman's clone died tonight, as far as I'm concerned. He deserves to start with a clean slate. On the other hand, if you find time to bring your visiting friend by the Precinct, say, in a day or two, I could probably grab a few minutes to be polite to him."
"I'll see if I can squeeze the time in," Clark said. "Thanks, Bill."
"Don't mention it. Tell Lois I expect to see her at the Precinct tomorrow morning to give her statement."
Clark shut the door and stood back, watching as the Inspector's car pulled away. He'd had to tell the man more about Brian when he explained the events surrounding Luthor's death, and Lois's sudden departure immediately afterwards. Henderson had said independently that certain aspects of the story didn't need to be known. He had all the information that his report required, and the last thing the kid needed would be curiosity seekers all interested in the fact that he was Superman's genetic twin -- especially now that the cloning technology existed. It was things like that, Clark thought, that made Henderson a good deal more than just a public official.
Clark had spent hours with the police, and even more time and creativity in writing the article that would appear tomorrow morning in the Daily Planet, under the Lane and Kent byline: the article that told the (somewhat edited) story of the Superman clone, and how he had saved their lives even as his powers were failing. That part was necessary to help the public understand why the man in the Superman costume had been unable to save Lex Luthor. In it, he had implied that the clone was dying, which wasn't a lie. The rest of the story would remain untold, however. As far as the world was concerned, the clone no longer existed. In the future, Brian wouldn't have to worry about criminals after him for his Kryptonian DNA, and the one man who might guess the truth was gone. Although he wouldn't have wished for Luthor's death, all in all it hadn't been a bad day's work, he thought, as he made his way along the sidewalk toward the entrance to STAR Labs.
Lois was dozing in one of the armchairs in Bernard Klein's office when he opened the door. He entered quietly and took the other chair, watching his partner sleep. He had nearly lost her today -- for good. They had very nearly lost each other, but thanks to the brother that he hadn't had until this week, they both had another chance.
He bit his lip, thinking of that, and made a promise to himself that he would take care of certain unfinished business as soon as he had the opportunity. It was time, he decided, to bring some things out into the open for better or worse.
Speaking of Brian, where was he? The hum in the back of his mind that indicated Brian's thoughts, and that he only noticed when he thought about it, was still there. He must be around here somewhere, or Lois wouldn't be here. After a moment, Clark rose and went to look through the blinds into the lab.
The lab was empty, but light was coming from a small, round window on the opposite wall, and when he listened, he could hear two sets of heartbeats in the room beyond. Instinctively, he tried to look through the wall, and after an instant's effort, the scene on the other side became visible. His powers were coming back. They weren't one hundred percent yet, but the worst was over. Superman was back.
Brian was sleeping soundly in a hospital bed. A clear tube ran from an IV bag positioned above him into his arm, and as Clark watched, Dr. Klein checked the readout on a machine that appeared to be regulating the speed of the drip, then turned and exited into the lab. Clark knocked lightly on the window. Dr. Klein saw him, and beckoned.
Clark made his way to where the scientist stood, threading his way between lab equipment and other obstacles, and peeked through the window at his brother. "How's he doing?"
"Very well," Dr. Klein said. "It was touch and go there for a bit, but the medication seems to be suppressing the production of the enzyme, and the latest blood tests show that his body's processes are stabilizing."
"He's going to be all right, then?" Clark said.
Klein nodded. "I think so. If everything goes according to plan, he should be able to leave in the morning."
Clark gave a sigh of relief. "I was worried," he said. "When he saved our lives, I could see that he was losing his powers. I was afraid he might not get back in time."
"It was close," Klein admitted, "but I was ready for him. Ms. Lane told me what happened, and we were listening to the news, of course." He pointed with his thumb at the thirteen-inch set that occupied one corner of the lab. "Superman should be proud of him."
"He is," Clark said. He reached into a pocket and extracted the lead box that he had picked up from his apartment on his way to the lab. "He wanted me to give you this."
Klein took it and started to open the catch. Clark stopped him. "Superman said not to open it anywhere around Brian," he explained. "It's Kryptonite. It's why he hasn't been around for the past day. He thought you might want to study it, but don't let anyone know it's here."
Klein's eyes opened wide. "Actual Kryptonite? I'll put this in the vault right away -- with a radioactivity warning. That will keep unauthorized people away."
"Good idea." Clark glanced through the window again. "Can I see him?"
"Sure. Just don't disturb him."
Lois was awake when Clark and Dr. Klein returned to Dr. Klein's office. She blinked sleepily and glanced at her watch. "Wow. I slept for almost two hours. How's Brian?"
"He's doing okay," Clark said. "Dr. Klein says he can probably leave in the morning."
"That's good," Lois said. She glanced at her watch again. "You know what? I'm starved."
"We never did get our lunch," Clark said. He glanced back in the direction of Brian's room. "I just hate to leave him alone. He was lonely last night."
"I'll be here," Dr. Klein said. "Go ahead."
"You'll call us if anything happens, won't you?" Clark said. "I'll give you my pager number."
"Sure," Dr. Klein said. He grinned. "It's good to know Brian has people that care about him. It worried me to think of him out in the world by himself, after he's normal. He's a pretty nice guy."
"He won't be alone," Clark said. "Some friends of Superman have offered him a place to live, and to teach him what he needs to know."
"That makes me feel better," the scientist said. "Why don't you -- or Superman, if he can -- come by about seven. He should be ready to go by then."
"So, where do you want to go?" Clark asked, as they left STAR Labs.
"You pick. And did you call a taxi?"
Clark smiled. "We don't need one, now."
"You mean Superman's back?"
"More or less. How about we go back to my apartment. I'll make you that steak dinner."
"But I haven't had a chance to earn it yet," Lois protested.
"That's all right. I'd call the performance you put on for Luthor this afternoon worth an Oscar, at least. Or would you rather have Mexican?"
"No, I'll take the steak."
They had strolled some distance from the lighted parking lot when Clark paused in the shadows, and stepped away from her, glancing quickly around. "I've always wanted to do this in front of you," he said, removing his glasses. With one fluid motion, he pulled open his shirt, revealing the red S on a field of blue. Then he became a miniature tornado that stopped a second later to reveal Superman. He held out his arms. "Ready?"
She gaped at him for a second, then stepped toward him. "Ready!"
He scooped her up, and a moment later, they were soaring through the clear night sky. Clark was grinning in a very un-Superman-like way, and Lois found herself grinning back. "Do I get rides like this more often, now that I know?"
"Superman Express, at your service," Clark said. "I guess in a way I'm grateful to Luthor and Leek."
"I've been wondering for a while how I was going to explain this dual-identity thing to you. They solved the problem for me."
"Oh." She felt the smile fade. "You were really going to tell me?"
He nodded. "When I worked up the nerve," he said. "But, I knew I was going to have to tell you sooner or later."
"Why?" she asked.
He was silent for a moment, then drew a deep breath and it seemed to her as if he was gathering his nerve. "You know, sometimes you think you're immortal -- and then you start to think the people around you are, too. It can take just a second to realize how wrong you are about everything -- like today."
He gave the ghost of a smile. "I almost lost you, and that scared me. If you'd died, never knowing ..."
"Never knowing what?"
He blew out his breath. "A lot of things," he said. "The most important one scares me to death, but you deserve to know. The pheromone didn't affect me, for obvious reasons, but if it had you'd have learned pretty quickly how I feel about you. At first I didn't say anything because you didn't seem interested in a hick from Smallville, and later, when I realized that maybe you actually did feel something for me, I was afraid I'd scare you away. I don't want to rush you into anything, but at least you'll know, and then we can decide if it can go anywhere. I've been in love with you from the day we met."
She stared at him in shock, then felt her eyes start to fill with tears, and impatiently brushed them away. Clark said something under his breath that might have been a swear word. "Lois, I'm sorry. Forget I said anything."
She shook her head. "I don't want to forget it." She wiped at her face with the back of her hand. "You can say you love me, even after the way I treated you?"
His arms tightened a little. "Didn't we decide a couple of days ago that that's over and done with?"
She sniffled. "I guess so."
"Anyway," he said, "I just wanted you to know. I don't expect you to feel the same way."
She wiped her face again. "Clark, I've been in relationships before. You know that, right?"
"Yes," he said cautiously.
"Every one of them was a federal disaster," she said. "Mostly, I think, because I have a habit of picking men who are jerks. I think this time is different, maybe because I didn't pick you. You picked me."
"Well, maybe," he agreed.
"The point is," she said, "I've been thinking for a while that there might be more to our relationship than just friendship. Do you mind if we go slowly and -- and find out?"
In the dimness, she saw his teeth flash in a wide, delighted grin. "Do you mean it?"
She nodded. "Yes, I do."
"I don't mind a bit," he said, and she could hear the happiness in his voice. "It sounds great."
Brian was waiting when Lois and Clark arrived at STAR Labs the following morning. He was wearing the jeans and T-shirt that Clark had loaned him, and Clark presented him with a leather jacket that Lois had reminded Clark to bring. After all, his brother was sensitive to the temperature now, in the manner of normal humans.
Bernard Klein shook hands with him as he prepared to leave. "Take care of yourself, Brian. And give me a call sometime, would you?"
Brian nodded, and then surprised the scientist for the second time with a hug. "Thanks, Bernie," he said.
"You're welcome." Dr. Klein hugged him back.
"We'll bring him back to see you -- after he's had a little time to learn about the way the rest of the world lives," Clark assured the scientist.
Dr. Klein extracted a handkerchief from the pocket of his lab coat and blew his nose. "I'll look forward to it. Good bye, Brian."
"You get to ride in Lois's Jeep today," Clark told his brother as the three of them left STAR Labs. He pointed at the silver Cherokee that was parked by the curb.
"Where are we going?" Brian wanted to know.
"Back to my place for now. There are two people there who want to meet you."
"My mom and dad," Clark said.
"Will they like me?" Brian asked.
Lois grinned and unlocked the passenger door. "You can sit in the front," she told him. "Clark and I told Martha and Jonathan all about you, and they wanted to meet you right away."
"Why?" Brian asked.
"Because you're Clark's brother. Clark never had a brother before," Lois said.
"Oh," Brian said, nodding wisely.
"Fasten your seatbelt," Clark told him. "Like this."
Brian did so, and tugged experimentally at the strap. "What's this for?"
"It's there to keep you from getting hurt if there's an accident," Lois said. "Everybody is supposed to wear them."
"Oh," Brian said. "All right."
Lois started the motor. Brian looked over his shoulder at Clark. "I feel a lot better today," he said. "I don't hurt anymore."
"That's because you're not sick anymore," Clark said. "You're like everybody else now."
The smile on Brian's face told him exactly how his brother felt about that. Clark forbore to mention that Dr. Klein had told him privately that Brian might actually be healthier than most humans, because it was highly unlikely that he would be susceptible to Earth's bacteria and viruses. There didn't seem to be any real reason to bring the fact to his attention at present, however.
Morning traffic was fairly light on a Saturday morning, and a short time later they were pulling up to Clark's apartment. As Lois cut the motor, the door flew open, and Martha and Jonathan Kent hurried down the steps. Brian managed to unfasten his seatbelt and opened the door, looking cautiously at the two older people. Clark hastily got out to make introductions.
"Brian," Clark said, "these are my mother and father, Martha and Jonathan Kent. Mom and Dad, this is Brian."
Martha stared at the two of them and Clark could see tears in her eyes, although she smiled and held out a hand. "We're very glad to meet you, Brian," she said, taking his hand. "Clark has told us all about you."
"That's right," Jonathan said. He stretched out a hand and shook Brian's. "Come on inside and have some breakfast. Martha thought you might be hungry."
Brian's eyes brightened at that. "I'm awfully hungry," he said.
"Then come on, honey. We can talk while you eat. Have you had breakfast, Lois?"
"I had coffee," Lois said.
"In that case," Martha said firmly, "all of you come in and sit down. I know Clark hasn't had anything, either. I made coffee and pancakes while we were waiting, and bacon and eggs. French toast, too. Clark said Luthor told you you didn't have to eat, Brian. Is that right?"
Brian nodded, still looking unsure of himself.
"Well, that isn't true any longer. You have to eat to stay healthy, so this morning you get to have a proper breakfast. Do you like bacon and eggs?"
"Sure," Brian said. "What are they?"
"You'll find out," Clark said, clapping him on the shoulder. "Mom's a terrific cook. Come on, let's go eat."
Breakfast broke the ice. Within a few minutes Brian's shyness vanished, and he began to ask questions and chatter happily. By the time breakfast was over and Clark began to clear the table, Brian was listening to Jonathan talking about the Kansas farm, and his upcoming fishing trip, and Clark could tell he was hooked.
"I thought I'd take Brian to meet my friend, Bill Henderson, today," he said. "After that, we have to go to work, so maybe you could take him to a movie or something while I'm gone."
"Or something," Jonathan agreed. "Would that be okay, Brian?"
Brian nodded enthusiastically. "Sure!"
Lois's eyes met Clark's over Brian's head. It looked like the beginning of a great relationship.
"Do you think Brian will be all right with your mom and dad?" Lois asked as she and Clark stepped into the Daily Planet newsroom. It was three o'clock, but they had informed Perry the evening before that they would be taking part of the day off after the events of the previous twenty-four hours.
The papers today were full of the death of Luthor, and the heroism and tragic death of the Superman clone. A preliminary inquiry into Luthor's records by the authorities was already showing signs of becoming a major investigation into the activities of LexCorp, and rumors were flying.
"Sure," Clark said. "If anybody knows how to handle kids, it's my mom."
"Hey, CK!" Jimmy waved a printout over his head. "Are you okay?"
"Sure," Clark said. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"Well, you got thrown off LexTower yesterday."
"So did I," Lois said. "Aren't you worried about me?"
"Uh, well, sure, but you've fallen off buildings lots of times and always been okay," Jimmy said, uncomfortably.
Lois rolled her eyes. "Forget it. What did Perry think of the whole thing?"
"He liked it, after Clark told him you were all right," Jimmy said. "Oops! S'cuse me." He headed across the room apparently in answer to a summons.
"I wonder if Perry's still wearing that toupee," Lois murmured as they made their way toward their desks. Clark glanced in the direction of the editor's office.
"Yep," he confirmed. "And a three-piece suit."
"How do you -- oh, yeah." She grinned. "I forgot for a minute. Is this as weird for you as it is for me?"
"A little," Clark said. "We'll get used to it."
"Well, now that some of the major problems are solved, any ideas what Perry's up to?"
"Your guess is as good as mine," Clark said. "There's one little problem that we can solve for him, though. Do you still have that stuff on the money transfers from Lexel Investments into the accounts of those advertising execs?"
"What do you suppose they'd say if we called them and mentioned the fact that we noticed they switched their accounts to other papers after questionable transactions with one of the companies now under investigation, and wondered if there had been some kind of mistake?"
Lois's eyebrows both went up. "Why, Mr. Kent, I think that's a wonderful idea. But would Superman sink to something like that?"
"No," Clark admitted. "But Clark Kent would. Let's get busy."
It had taken some time to work their way through company red tape to the advertising executives in question, but four hours later Clark put down the phone with a gesture of accomplishment. "Last one," he announced. "Ms. Adamson of Femme Fatale Cosmetics has assured me that it was nothing but a clerical error by a new employee, and that the problem has already been corrected. Isn't that a coincidence?"
"Amazing," Lois said. "Jay Timmons of Miller's Dry Goods said almost exactly the same thing. I guess it's impossible to find good help these days."
They grinned conspiratorially at each other.
Jimmy hurried past them to Perry's office, poked his head inside, and turned quickly to them.
"He left about fifteen minutes ago," Lois said.
"Oh no!" Jimmy wailed.
"What's going on?" Clark asked.
"I've been trying to figure out the new image thing, so I looked through his correspondence while he was out to lunch. He had his physical last week, and I think he might have got bad news. There's an entry in his calendar for tonight that says he's going to the Metropolis Bridge. I think he's going to jump!"
"Jimmy that's absurd," Lois said.
"I swear, I saw it!"
"Well --" Lois stood up. "I think you're wrong, but let's grab a cab. Someone's borrowing my car today. Come on."
She completely missed the astounded look on Jimmy's face as they hurried out.
There was a crowd gathered on the bridge when they arrived, all focussed on the man who stood at the very edge. Perry White turned to look at the assembled crowd, nodded and smiled, and dived into space.
"Chief!" Jimmy shouted. "No!"
They hurried to the edge to look over, Clark ready to spring into action if necessary, but the Bungee cord tied to the railing told the story. Lois began to laugh.
"Fifty, huh?" Clark said.
"Yeah. The big 5-0," Perry said. They were seated on a bench placed by the pedestrian walk for those intrepid souls who chose to cross the Metropolis Bridge on foot. The crowd had disappeared.
"Well, congratulations, Chief," Jimmy said.
"Thank you," Perry said.
"If I were you, I'd lose the hair piece, though," Lois said. "It's not you."
"Alice says it turns her on," Perry said. He brushed his hand over the top of his head. "Anyhow, I left that sucker down at the bottom of the canyon. So much for my mid-life crisis."
He got to his feet and started to walk toward the convenience phone some distance away. Jimmy followed him. Perry slung an arm companionably over his junior employee's shoulders.
"I hope you learned your lesson, son," Perry said.
"Yeah," Jimmy said. "Never trust an old guy."
Perry's laugh drifted back to them on the cool night air.
Lois giggled. "Midlife crisis. Well, that's one more minor mystery solved."
Clark shook his head. "Looks like life is almost back to normal. We never did get to go to Jose's, though. Would you care to go to dinner with me, Ms. Lane? I could phone the apartment and tell them not to expect us. It will give Brian more time with Mom and Dad."
"Why Mr. Kent," Lois said, slipping her arm through his, "I think that's a great idea."
Jonathan and Martha stayed in Metropolis three days, and Brian spent most of the time with them. They visited the Metropolis Zoo, the Bayside Amusement Park, the Spring Carnival and every other entertainment spot they could think of. Martha read him stories in the evening, and listened when he wanted to talk about the things that had happened to him in his short life. When the time approached that they prepared to return to Smallville, Brian tagged Martha around, looking dejected.
"What is it, Brian?" she asked. "Is something bothering you?"
"I don't want you to go!" he burst out.
"Jonathan and I have to go home," Martha explained gently. "We have the farm to take care of." She paused. "But I have an idea. Clark's apartment is pretty small for more than one person. I talked about it to Jonathan, and he thinks it would be nice if you could come with us."
Brian brightened immediately. "Could I?"
Martha nodded. "There's a lot of work on a farm," she said. "You'd have to help Jonathan with the animals and machinery and so forth, but you could have Clark's room for your own. We'd love to have you. After all ..." She hesitated, then ventured ahead, "Clark's our son, and that makes you our son, too. If you want to be."
"Would I ever get to see Clark and Lois again?" Brian asked.
"Of course. Clark visits every week, and now that Lois knows about Superman, he can bring her with him," Martha said.
Brian seemed to think that over. "I'd like to," he said finally. "I don't really like Metropolis much. There's too many people. It's kind of scary."
"Then you'll like Smallville, honey," Martha said.
"Can I call you 'Mom', like Clark does?"
"Sure," she said. "I'd like that. And if you want, you can call Jonathan 'Dad'."
The smile on Brian's face said it all.
That evening, Lois and Clark accompanied Jonathan, Martha and Brian to the airport. It would be Brian's first time on a plane, and his excitement was contagious. Lois and Clark stayed until the flight was called, talking, and both promised to come for dinner the following week.
"That's us," Jonathan said, as a loudspeaker announced their flight.
All of them stood up. Clark shook hands with his father, hugged his mother and turned to Brian.
"Are you going to be okay?" he asked.
Brian nodded. "It's okay if I have your room, isn't it?" he asked anxiously. "Mom said you wouldn't mind."
"I don't mind at all," Clark said. "You're my brother. That's where you belong. Be sure to help them, though. The farm is a lot of work for just two people."
"I will," Brian said. He hesitated and then threw his arms around Clark. "Thanks," he said. "Thanks for everything."
Clark hugged him back. "You don't have to thank me. That's what brothers do for each other."
Lois moved forward to hug him as well. "We'll see you next week," she said. "Be good."
"I will," Brian assured her.
"Time to go," Jonathan said. "We'll see you all on Tuesday."
"Bye, Dad," Clark said.
They walked away down the ramp amid a crowd of other people, Brian between Martha and Jonathan Kent, and towering over both of them. Clark and Lois stood at the window, watching until the boarding ramp retreated, the doors were closed, and the 727 taxied away to take its place in the queue of waiting planes.
"Shall we go?" Lois asked finally.
Clark nodded, and together they headed back to reclaim the Cherokee. Behind him, he heard the distinctive roar of the 727's engines as the plane bearing his parents and brother raced down the runway for takeoff.
The clone was dead, he thought with an inner smile. Long live Brian Kent.