A Man's Got to Know His Limitations
By LastScorpion

Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters. In retrospect, the story is highly derivative of DC Comics' "The Death of Superman" by Jurgens, Ordway, Simonson, Stern, Bogdanove, Grummett, Guice, Breeding, Burchett, Hazlewood, Janke and Rodier. "Smallville" is the property of DC Comics, the WB, Gough & Millar, Tollin & Robbins, and possibly some other people I'm missing -- not me. This is all just for fun; please don't sue.

Many many thanks to myownspecialself, Rissa and Hope for graciously agreeing to beta-read this. I really appreciate it. They were kind, intelligent, and wonderful. Any remaining errors or offenses against common decency are mine and mine alone.

Chapter One: First Draft of History

They say that journalism is the first draft of history.

It seems like I've been a reporter my whole damn life. I've worked and sweated and toiled, and I'm damned if I'm going to choose to regard my life's work as a piddling little first draft. Besides, if the stuff that I rigorously research and expose and double-check and polish is the rough draft, what the hell do I call this?

They say that history is the distillation of rumor.

Well, rumor's a tricky thing.

I remember the day I met Clark Kent. Perry had just finished yelling at me for something or other. Blah blah blah Lois blah blah blah lawsuit blah blah blah. My attention was wandering just a little bit, and I saw a guy come into the newsroom. Tall, dark-haired, broad-shouldered. Mmmm. Then he tripped over a piece of invisible lint or something and fell on his face, and when he got up I could see that he had these huge, ugly, Drew Carey glasses and a mild, foolish, sheep-like expression on his face. Oh, well. I prefer my men to be sharp and, I don't know... masterful. Although I hate a guy thinking he's in charge of me. Which pretty much puts a finger on why my relationships never last long.

Anyway, Perry made the new guy, Clark Kent from Smallville, into my partner. He could have been a hell of a reporter if he'd ever managed to concentrate on one damn thing for more than half an hour at a time. Kept me on the straight and narrow, more or less. Had the skill-set for a journalist, though he really lacked the killer instinct. Could have been a lot worse, from my point of view and from Perry's.

What made him special, of course, was Superman.

I don't know why none of us ever asked at the time. What made Clark Kent the guy with the direct line to Superman? How did this cub reporter from Podunk come to the attention of the Man of Steel? Why did Clark get the interviews? Why was Clark the one who could get hold of the hero in an emergency? How come Clark never got pushed off a building and had to be rescued like the rest of us? You never saw them together. Clark always left, sometimes running and squealing like a little girl, whenever serious trouble came down. Then Superman would show, and the day would be saved, and then Clark would just turn up again later. Sometimes it was the next day, and sometimes they'd just barely miss each other. We got used to the thought that Clark wouldn't have had time to do anything shifty in such tiny increments of time. It never occurred to us that if Clark had been Superman -- if CLARK had been SUPERMAN! -- it wouldn't have been a problem.

I remember the night I met Lex Luthor. Perry was mad at me again that week, so I was covering the social whirl. I can write absolutely anything. He doesn't have to suspend me to get my attention; he can just sentence me to commenting on the gowns and the Armani and the who's seeing whom. It was opening night at the Metropolis Opera. Clark wasn't on Perry's shit list that time, so I was alone. I caught Luthor's eye from across the room, I guess. He sure as hell caught mine. Elegant, self-possessed, sexy. Mmmm. Masterful, too, and I loved the crooked way he smiled. When he came over and we talked I could tell he was a little shaken that I was with the Daily Planet, but he stayed and smirked and chatted me up. There was something behind those gray-blue eyes. You could only see it when he was close. The genius was right on the surface; the larceny was just one layer down, but there was a hidden something like a secret sorrow. I guess I'm a sap.

I was enough of a sap (or maybe just a lustbunny) to get sucked into his lovely, lovely world. I was dumb enough to be flattered and say 'Yes' when he asked me to (of all things!) marry him. But whenever I stopped thrumming long enough to think and to notice, I could see he was after something more than just me. He wanted information. At the time I thought it was about the Planet, and he was trying to protect his moderately sullied business reputation from our special brand of meticulously documented muckraking journalism. Now I think he was fishing for something else. I thank the stars every night that I weaseled out of that engagement. I got out of it with nothing worse than damaged pride, which makes me the luckiest girl in town.

Looking back, I can see that Clark acted funny whenever I mentioned Lex, and, stranger still, Lex acted funny whenever I mentioned Clark. I didn't speak to Superman at all the whole three months I was engaged, which is odd in retrospect as well.

Now, after everything that's happened, I think I know more.

I remember the night Superman died. The Extra-Terror (name courtesy of Merle Johnson at the Inquisitor -- I have no idea why it stuck) had attacked Tokyo early in the evening of the longest night of the year -- the Winter Solstice. It fought Superman one-and-a-half times around the world before they finally killed each other at the Metropolis Public Library. The fire and resulting residual radiation have made that part of the city off-limits for re-building and human habitation for at least the next fifty years. Everyone who was there at the end of the fight -- including myself, several dozen members of the Kansas National Guard, and the Metropolis Fire Department crew that stopped the fire from spreading to the rest of the city -- had to be treated for radiation exposure. They buried Superman right where he fell, under the rubble of the library. There wasn't time for anything more appropriate.

During the two days that the Extra-Terror was on Earth it killed more than ten thousand people. About thirty thousand were hurt. It did billions of dollars worth of property damage.

It killed Superman.

At least he stopped it.

I was a wreck after that night. I had been right there at the end. I saw Superman's burnt, broken body. I felt the cold and stillness where there should have been warmth, a bull-strong heartbeat, a vibrant hum of life. I watched the Guardsmen and the Firemen bury him in the wet, smoking wreckage of the beautiful temple of learning that Lex Luthor's great-grandfather had built for this city back in 1895. The men who did the work were wonderful. They stopped the fire, and they found out about the radiation. They got people to the hospital and started to clean up the mess. They took care of everything, and all I could do was cry.

I went in to work two days later. The Planet and the Inquisitor had cooperated to get a paper out the morning after the catastrophe, but after that first day both organizations were able to pull together the staff and resources to resume independent publication. Some people didn't turn up.

One of them was my partner, Clark Kent.

He'd left work a little early the day before the Extra-Terror hit Japan. There was big fire down in Suicide Slum, and he said he'd try to call a story in before deadline. The story had been called in from a pay-phone (I don't know why Clark would never carry a cell) in time to be a small item on the bottom of page three of the issue which carried the front-page headline "Monster Attacks Tokyo." That was the last anyone had heard of him. Superman had been at that fire, too. He saved the lives of a woman and two little kids.

The next day's headline was "Superman Dead." Clark Kent didn't make the paper until Christmas Day, when we published our lists of Kansas Missing Persons and Kansas Slain.