By Nan Smith
The familiar characters and settings in this story are not mine. They
are the property of DC Comics, Warner Bros., December 3rd Productions
and whoever else can legally claim them, nor am I profiting from their
use. Any new characters, scenes,
dialogue and the story itself, belong to me.
This is the Sequel to "The Return", and occurs in the world of the Alternate Clark Kent/Superman.
Lois tucked the paycheck into her purse and grinned happily at her partner. "Six months back pay! I can buy clothes!"
"Eduardo really came through," Clark said. "That should hold you until they get the paperwork processed for the rest, and the State of New Troy gets around to returning your money."
"Yeah," Lois said. "I had all my vacation money in my savings account. Five thousand dollars! You'd think they'd at least wait until I was declared dead before they grabbed it."
Clark shrugged philosophically. "You know state governments. They're always strapped for money. I guess they're pretty eager to get hold of it on just about any excuse."
"Yeah, well this time they're going to have to give it back," Lois said. "Let's go. I want to deposit this thing and get some cash. I need clothes!"
"Your wish is my command," Clark said. "Come on."
They headed for the stairwell. Once inside, Clark made a quick change to Superman and swept her up in his arms. Seconds later, they were landing in the alley between the bank and the Century 22 Real Estate office next door. Lois straightened her hair. "You know, being your partner has definite advantages."
Clark changed back to his civilian identity and grinned smugly at her. "Not as many as being your partner does. Go ahead and deposit your check."
"Okay," Lois said. "After that, we're going to test out your 'Charlie' disguise at the local mall. Let's see if it works as well as I think it will."
Lois and Clark strolled casually through the Metro Central Mall. Clark glanced at his reflection in one of the store windows. The spiky hairstyle and the fashionable shades gave his face a slightly different shape, and the loud, flashy clothing that Lois had chosen was better than a mask for hiding his identity. No one so much as looked at his face. Come to think of it, it was the same psychology used by the Clark Kent of the other universe. If it hadn't been for Tempus, it would have worked for him, too.
Lois was looking sideways at him, a half-smile on her lips. He met her gaze and grinned. "I can't believe this," he said in an undertone. "I'm invisible! I love it!"
"Well, in that case, you can come in and help me choose some clothes," Lois said. "Especially since you can sit in public without being mobbed, now. Tomorrow is New Year's Eve. I need something appropriate to wear."
Clark forbore to point out that she had a perfectly good outfit to wear to work and another to wear at the Countdown Party that he and she were attending to see in the New Year. In his experience with Lana, such perfectly reasonable statements only got a guy in trouble. Besides, he reflected a short time later, watching Lois model clothing wasn't exactly a chore. It was only too bad that this was the wrong season for swimsuits.
"Well," she said, breaking in on his thoughts. "What do you think of this one? If you're just going to sit there staring at me with a goofy smile on your face, you're not going to be much help!"
He found himself grinning widely. She probably had no idea how good it felt to have her speak to him like that. Ever since Tempus had exposed him that day, woman tended to hang on his every word and agree with every stupid remark he made, just because he was Superman.
"It looks nice," he said obediently.
"You said that about all the other things, too," Lois pointed out. "You're supposed to help me pick out the one I look the best in."
He shrugged. "Can I help it if I think you're beautiful in anything you wear?"
She rolled her eyes, but he could tell that she was blushing faintly. "That's not much help," she said. "Which one did you like the best?"
"Well, the turquoise one looked pretty good," he said. "I like you best in the red, though. Or maybe the black one."
"That's what I like," she said. "A guy with firm opinions. Okay, I'll take the red one and the black one. Then all I have to decide is which one I'm going to wear tomorrow. At least I have something to wear besides the pantsuit, or the one I wore on our date."
"That one looked great, too," he offered.
"If you don't watch out, I'm going to read something more into that," she said.
"You can read anything into it that you like," he said. "Would you like to try one of them out tonight at Dominic's?"
"Italian?" she asked.
"Do you like Italian?"
"I sure do," she said. "Okay."
"Great," he said.
"But we'll have to pick 'Charlie King' out something for dinner wear. Let's go back to the place we got that outfit and see what we can find."
"I think the charcoal suit looks best," Lois said with decision.
Clark looked down at himself in the outfit and had to admit that she was right. "But is it something that Charlie King would wear?" he asked a little doubtfully. "The idea is to keep me invisible."
"You will be," Lois said. "You keep the hairstyle, and I have an idea that will convince anyone who sees you that you can't possibly be you-know-who."
"Not here," Lois told him. "After you pay for that, I'll meet you outside."
"Okay." Clark raised an eyebrow at her, but the sunglasses spoiled the effect. He waited in line to pay for the suit and a couple of other items that Lois had insisted he buy, wondering what she had in mind. So far, her ideas had all panned out, so he figured she was up to something else that would help to misdirect people about the identity of her escort at Dominic's tonight.
It took a while to work his way through the line. Eventually, he stepped out of the men's shop, the suit carefully bagged in plastic, and looked around.
Lois was just emerging from a jewelry store across the way, and the expression on her face made him nervous.
"Okay," she said. "Do you know anything about putting on earrings?"
He felt his eyebrows shoot up. "Earrings?"
"Actually, only one earring," she said. "These are those fake-pierced kind. No one expects you know who to wear an earring."
"No, I've never worn earrings," he said.
"Come on over to the bench," Lois said. "I'll show you how."
A short time later, he was examining the results in a store window. A small, gold hoop with a frost of tiny, glittering cubic zirconia crystals instead of diamonds, adorned his left ear.
"I don't know about this," he said doubtfully.
"It looks fine," Lois said in the tone that he was beginning to recognize meant that she was both determined and amused. "You're going to wear it tonight, along with those Calvin Klein glasses frames. Nobody will notice you. If they even look in your direction, they'll look at the earring. Trust me."
He shrugged. "Your wish is my command."
She elbowed him in the ribs and then rubbed the elbow. "Ouch. Okay; now let's go back to your place. I suppose I'll need to start apartment hunting after the New Year. Sooner or later some nosy reporter is going to notice that I'm staying in your apartment, and there'll be a scandal, which we want to avoid at all costs."
"Yeah," he said reluctantly. "Let's try to find one not too far away, though. It's nice having you nearby."
She slipped a hand into the crook of his elbow. "If you don't watch those extravagant compliments, I'm likely to get a swelled head."
He laughed. "Sorry. I didn't mean to sound so lukewarm about it -- but I really meant it. It's nice to have you nearby. I like to hear you moving around in my place."
She patted him arm. "Well, I noticed that the place right next to yours is up for rent. It's kind of a mess, but maybe you could help me fix it up."
Clark laughed. "You should have seen my place when I rented it. It was falling apart, at least inside. I practically had to rebuild it from the ground up. Let's go see if we can find old Floyd. Maybe he'll let you get the process going today. Then you've got an excuse for being seen around the place so much."
Lois shrugged. "Sure. If he doesn't mind doing business so late in the day."
Floyd, it seemed, wasn't averse to doing business at any time. He was an immensely fat man with a suspicious manner, but when Clark -- now in his Clark Kent guise -- explained Lois's circumstances, and that she was also Superman's new spokesperson, the suspicion diminished. An hour and a half later, they walked triumphantly out of his office, with his assurance that the apartment was hers as soon as the check cleared.
By the time they returned to the apartment house on Clinton Avenue, the sun was setting, and dusk had begun to fall upon the city. As they ascended the main steps to the building, Clark saw the figures of two men in the shadow of the alley across the street, one of them with a camera and the other manipulating what looked suspiciously like a microphone that was aimed at him. With a slight nod of his head he directed Lois's attention to the pair.
Lois didn't, by the slightest word or expression, let on that she saw them. She paused. "I appreciate the help you've given me, Mr. Kent," she said formally. "It's not easy picking up where I left off five years ago."
"It hasn't been a problem, Ms. Lane," he said. "Your work in handling the media for me has been very helpful, so I think we can call it even." He opened the door for her. "If you have the time, we can look at those notes now." He let her precede him through the entrance and followed.
After it closed behind them and they had gone a short way down the hall, Lois stopped. "Who are they?" she asked. "Could you identify them?"
"National Whisper," Clark said with a certain amount of resignation. "The grey-haired guy is Leo Nunk. I've seen the other one with him a lot recently -- his new cameraman, I'm pretty sure."
"Nunk, huh?" Lois said. "I see he's graduated to bigger and better things."
"You've met him?"
"Yeah," Lois said. "A real bottom feeder."
"If the Whisper is a bigger and better thing for him, I hate to think where he was before," Clark said.
"When I left Metropolis, he worked for the Celebrity Scandal Weekly."
"You're kidding. I didn't think even the Whisper would associate with them."
"I'm serious," Lois told him. "He has a real thing for hunting up scandals, and making them up if he can't find any."
"I guess we'd better be sure he sees you leave, then," Clark said. "I'll bring you back in via Superman Express after dinner. Why don't you get changed, quick. If you walk out of here via the front steps, he'll never be able to tell what you're wearing under that coat. I'll meet you in front of Geno's Deli."
"Good idea," Lois said. "Let's hurry."
When she approached Geno's Deli, the first thing she saw was Charlie King awaiting her in the pool of illumination provided by a street light, wearing his spiked hairstyle, a charcoal suit, glasses with Calvin Klein frames and his gold earring. She lifted a hand. "Hi, Charlie!"
He waved and hurried toward her. "Hi, babe," he said. "Ready for that Welcome Home dinner I promised you?"
"I sure am!" she said. She jerked her thumb in the direction from which she had just come, the motion shielded by their bodies. "Nunk is following me," she said in a much lower tone. "I guess he decided to find out more about Superman's spokesperson."
Clark sighed. "That's what's going to happen a lot if you associate much with me," he said. "I won't blame you if you don't feel like you want to deal with it."
Lois shook her head. "It's going to take more than that to scare me away," she said. "Let's give Mr. Nunk the most boring evening of his life. Besides, now's the time to give your disguise the acid test."
He hesitated. "Are you sure?"
"I'm sure. Come on; I'm starving."
Dominic's was a classic country Italian restaurant, situated on a slight hill above the marina. Music played in the background, and even before opening the door, Lois could smell the garlic and the other delectable aromas filling the air. Clark had phoned ahead for reservations for Charles King, party of two, and the hostess seated them next to a wide window that gave them an excellent view of the lighted marina and the sailboats and yachts drawn up at their moorings.
Clark had eaten here before, he told Lois, accompanied by a slew of cameramen and journalists that disturbed the other diners to the point where he had at last asked his server to box up the rest of his meal, paid for dinner, and flown off to finish eating at home. He hadn't been back since.
"Well, I think we've solved that for now," Lois said in a low voice. "Do you see Nunk?"
"He just came in," Clark said. "He may get a seat, but this place is popular enough that you really need reservations if you don't want to wait for a couple of hours." He was silent for a moment, and Lois thought he was listening. "The wait is an hour and a half. I wonder if he's willing to --" He broke off. "He's taking a seat in the waiting area."
"Any sign of his cameraman?" Lois asked.
Clark shook his head. "I can't see him anywhere. No sign of that directional mike, either."
"I don't think the management would tolerate somebody spying on their guests with something like that," Lois said.
"The time I ate here, I think they were overwhelmed," Clark said. "I doubt that Nunk will be able to convince them that freedom of the press includes allowing him to spy on one of their diners."
"Let's hope not!" Lois said.
"I'll keep an eye -- and an ear -- on him," Clark said. "Go ahead and take a look at the menu. This place is as close to genuine as you're going to find anywhere outside of Italy."
"Okay." Lois opened the menu and began to peruse the descriptions of the delicacies offered. She glanced up once to see Clark apparently absorbed in his own menu, but one of his eyelids flickered slightly at her.
"It all looks so good that I'm having trouble deciding," she said.
"Yeah, I know," Clark said. "But if I pass this test, we can come back and you can try different menu items. The bruschetta is a great appetizer, though. Why don't we get that while we're making up our minds about the main course."
"Okay," Lois said.
Their server appeared beside the table, looking from one to the other. "Can I bring you some wine and an appetizer while you're making up your minds?" he inquired.
"That sounds good," Clark said, and promptly ordered a vintage that Lois had never heard of, except that it sounded Italian, and the bruschetta. The man set a bowl of olives, and carrot andzucchini slices in some sort of oil and herb marinade on their table and departed. A moment later another man set glasses of ice water in front of them.
"I think I'll have the fettuccine with clam sauce," Lois was beginning, when someone pushed a chair up to their table and settled into it. Lois looked up in surprise to see Nunk, with the usual oily smile on his lips, leaning forward, his elbows on the table.
"Lois Lane, isn't it?" he inquired. "I thought you were dead."
"Well, I'm not," she said.
"Yes, I thought you were awfully cozy with Muscle Boy," Nunk said. "I guess he brought you back?"
"As a matter of fact, he did. Now," Lois said, "if you don't mind, this is a private dinner. Go away."
Nunk ignored the request. "So, you're his spokesperson," he said. "I guess you're helping him out with your colleagues. Naughty, naughty, Lois. You trying to keep all the Superman exclusives to yourself?"
Clark leaned forward. "Look, Mr. Whoever-you-are, this is our table, and you're not invited. Get lost."
Nunk glanced indifferently at him and turned back to Lois. "You don't want to cause a scene," he said placidly, "and that's the only way you're gonna get me out of here. Where you been the last five years, Lois?"
"None of your business," Lois said. "Go away, Nunk, before I call the management and have you thrown out."
Nunk tsked at her. "If you just tell me what I want to know, it would avoid all this unpleasantness. I might even be persuaded to leave quietly." He turned and snapped his fingers at the waiter. "You! Bring me a drink!" he said.
People were beginning to stare. The waiter had arrived at the table, looking somewhat bewildered and a little offended. "Is there something wrong?" he asked.
"Yeah," Nunk said. "I'm a guest at their table and I want a drink."
The man's eyebrows flew up. "What would you like, sir?"
Clark got to his feet. "Nothing," he said. "This man is intruding on our dinner. Could you please have him removed?"
The waiter looked at Nunk. "If that's the case, I'm going to have to ask you to leave, sir."
"Nothin' doin'," Nunk said. "I'm a reporter, and that means I can do what I want. There's a law about freedom of the press. Bring me that drink, now."
The waiter glanced at Clark and raised an eyebrow. "One moment, sir," he said. Turning, he departed in the direction of the bar.
"Now," Nunk said, "you were about to tell me about the last five years of your life, Lois."
Lois glared at him. "In your dreams, pal!"
The man reached forward to take one of the olives and popped it into his mouth. Even through her irritation, Lois noted that he had barely glanced at Clark. She got to her feet. "Take one more piece of food from this table and you're going to leave behind a hand!"
The waiter was returning with a slender man in a dark suit. They stopped by Lois and Clark's table, and the slender man stepped forward. "I'm the manager of Dominic's," he said, "as you know, Mr. Nunk. You're annoying my guests, and I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave." Two men with the unmistakable look of bouncers appeared behind him and stood still, folding their arms.
Nunk looked at the men and then at the manager, who looked steadily and expressionlessly back. He got reluctantly to his feet. "All right," he said, trying to sound casual, "but I'll be back to get that story, Lois."
"You do that, Nunk," Lois said. "But you're going to wait a long time."
"This way, Mr. Nunk," the manager said. He gestured his bouncers forward. The men each took one of Nunk's arms and marched him -- protesting every step of the way -- toward the entrance. Lois looked after them in time to see them eject him through the front doors. She turned back to the manager.
"All part of the job, ma'am," the man said calmly. He turned and retreated in the direction of the bar.
"Your bruschetta will be here momentarily," their waiter said, as if nothing had happened. "I'll just replace these hors d'oeuvres." He picked up the bowl and set another in its place. "Have you decided?"
"Yes," Lois said. Clark nodded.
While they waited for their dinner, Lois leaned forward, forgetting for the moment that Clark could hear her easily if she whispered. "Did you notice?"
"Nunk didn't realize who you are," she said.
His eyes widened. "You're right!" He fingered the earring. "I think I could learn to like this thing," he said. "The manager sure knew who Nunk was, though."
"I noticed that," Lois said. "The guy makes slime look respectable."
Clark nodded. "I've had the same opinion for years."
"I think we can do without Nunk on our next date," Lois continued. "If you'll provide the transportation, I'd like to take you to dinner at Fisherman's Wharf next time."
Clark laughed. "All right," he agreed. "I'm all yours."
She was beginning to realize that he meant that literally. Lois found herself grinning back. "You know, Charlie," she said, "this could be the start of a great relationship."
He lifted his wineglass. "To great relationships."
She touched her glass to his. "Ditto," she said.