Worth the Cost

By Sweet Anonymity a.k.a. Nefhiriel

Rating: PG-13/T

Genre: Action/Adventure/Angst

Summery: The citizens of Metropolis rally to their hero's aid when Superman is forced to count on them for help. But will it be enough?

Disclaimer: Superman and the cast of this story (with the exception of OCs) belong to their respective owners. I do not take any credit for them.

A/N: I'm not very knowledgeable about Superman. As a matter of fact, I know shamefully little. Simply put: I'm a fan of the newest Superman Returns film—I saw the fanfiction potential in that movie, and it compelled me to write this. I usually don't write fanfiction for something unless I feel at least little more qualified through experience, or have been a fan for a long time. But I did try to do my research for this. ;-) Also, I did see all the Christopher Reeve movies, but that was when I was much younger, and I've only re-watched the first two recently. So, needless to say, my cannon is probably pretty shaky, but I hope it's acceptable to all you more knowledgeable fans out there.

Batman will also be making an appearance later on in this story. -sheepish- My Batman knowledge is very Batman Begins oriented, just as my Superman knowledge is mostly from SR. (I've seen most of the other Batman movies, but also just like with the other Superman movies, that was a while ago.) So, "my" Batman is, shamelessly, the one from newest movie, and he is also a good friend of Superman's.

About the setting: Being a fan, primarily, of SR, this story takes place within that "world". However, at the same time, I've simplified things for the sake of the plot. Although I enjoyed both characters, neither Richard nor Jason quite fit into the plot—so, although they exist, they're not present, or mentioned in this particular story. In other words, this is an SR fic, set in the SR realm, but not pertaining primarily to the SR storyline. Make sense? Heh, probably not… I think (hope) you'll see what I mean when you get into it. :-)

Part 1

Kryptonite: No Longer a Rare Commodity

That was one of the kindermore objectiveways the newspapers were putting it. Lois had read it and flinched. The other headlines she'd read over the course of the last days drove a cold stab of nausea into the pit of her stomach every time she thought about them. The full implications of this latest bit of news were taking a little while to sink in. On the other hand, she wasn't entirely certain she wanted it to sink in. She sat at her desk at the Daily Planet, trying to focus on something other than Superman and his possible demise, and failing hopelessly. The bustle around her didn't quite penetrate.

Green was steadily becoming her least favorite color.

Kryptonite in the Hands of the Average Criminal

That one definitely gave her a few mental pictures she could have done without.

Kryptonite for the Masses

"Masses" and "Kryptonite" in the same sentence wasn't much better.

Superman Beware

Her thoughts exactly. "Superman beware", "Be careful, Superman"—and all kinds of variations with the same theme—had been the main occupants of her thoughts ever since the news had broken and spread like wild-fire across Metropolis. Somewhere, somehow, someone had been busy at work, with the intention of bringing about the downfall of Superman. Many were now afraid this anonymous "someone" was succeeding.

Kryptonite, in alarmingly large quantities, had been infiltrating the city through various means. From where, or whom, precisely, these different sources were originally getting the Kryptonite remained a mystery. But the one and only weapon proven effective against Superman was being shuffled from one man to the next, handed down the line until there was no telling who, or how many, owned a shard of the green mineral.

Of course, the sudden abundance of Kryptonite might be simply a disastrous—or, depending on your view, fortuitous—gift from this nameless, faceless someone. Certainly not a "gift from above".

It was all a mystery Lois was, along with the better part of the citizens of Metropolis, anxious to solve. Even among those who didn't personally owe the superhero their life, or the life of a loved-one, most had the common sense to realize their lives were safer in his hands than without him there to catch them if trouble caught up with them someday. Keeping Superman from being killed was, even from a detached point of view, in everyone's best interests. And the general populace had a view that was anything but detached. Watching lives be saved innumerable times by one man had a way of making one feel slightly indebted to said man.

"…and to compound rising fears, Superman has yet to be heard of since Monday this week…"

Lois' drifting attention was caught long enough by the reporter on TV for her to concentrate on the single sentence, figure out that it was presently Thursday afternoon, and blearily come to the conclusion that that meant they were entering the third day with no news of Superman. God, what was she doing here, just sitting around worrying, and doing nobody any real good? What else would you be doing? Thought you might just traipse out there, and single-handedly start relieving local thugs of any Kryptonite weapons that might be in their possession? She had to admit, the thought had occurred to her. But heavens knew she'd gotten into more than her fair share of trouble, and heavens also knew Superman had gotten her out of most of those situations.

Right now, the last thing she wanted to do was create a new catastrophe. What she wanted was for Superman to disappear until this Kryptonite problem was taken care of. Actually…he seemed to be doing just that. She would have been relieved at his absence, if it weren't for the equal possibility that he'd been made to "disappear" by some low-life wielding a piece of Kryptonite. That possibility stared her in the face every time optimistic thoughts tried to slip into her head. And, of course, there was the obvious problem of Superman being too stupidly, ridiculously, hopelessly loyal and noble to abandon Metropolis just because of something like this. Who cared if it was his life at risk for a change? Minor detail.

"Ah…Lois. Are you alright?"

Clark really didn't deserve to be the recipient of her bad mood. Someone like Clark rarely did deserve to. Unfortunately, people like Clark usually made excellent scapegoats. In this case, it was also a mixture on her part of several nights' insomnia, followed by too much caffeine, and raw nerves just waiting to be stepped on. In addition, Clark had an annoying habit of just appearing out of the blue next to your desk, and asking you ridiculous questions like "Are you alright?", and being so quiet beforehand it took you a moment just to get over the surprise of him being there. Thus, his quiet inquiry elicited a terse, "No, I'm not alright."

The terse response in turn elicited an "Oh" and that patented slightly wide-eyed look from Clark.

She sometimes had wonder if he knew how that kicked-puppy look of his had a way of instantly sending the recipient on a guilt-trip. She sighed heavily. "Look…Clark. It's been a long day… A long couple of days, actually. I didn't mean to be so short with you."

Clark was nothing if not forgiving, his expression easily shifting into a sympathetic smile. "That's alright. Things have been kind of…busy."

"You could say that again." She massaged her temples, already beginning to drift mentally away from the conversation and back into her own problems. Or rather, Superman's.

"Maybe you should go home—get some sleep," Clark suggested. "I'm sure Mr. White wouldn't mind. You've been doing about ten men's…er…women's work these last couple of days."

Lois quelled another outburst. She didn't need a break. She'd gotten sleep that night. Well, at least she'd lain down and drifted in and out for a few hours. That counted. At any rate, she certainly didn't need to go home and take a nap at four o'clock in the afternoon.

Somehow, Clark got the message even without her saying any of it. Probably had something to do with the exasperated look on her face. Her irritation, as usual, sent Clark into full apologetic I-aim-to-please mode. "I didn't mean you needed a nap or anything, Lois, I just meant you…ah, just look a little tired. That's all. Maybe you don't need sleep or anything but, maybe, just a bite to eat?"

Beaten yet again by the country-boy charm into feeling like a complete jerk, Lois tried to ditch the frustration that made her feel like ranting at the nearest target—aka Clark—or possibly pummeling something or someone into a pulp. "Thanks, Clark. I really appreciate the concern, but I think I'll stick around a while longer. See if anything comes up about the Kryptonite outbreak or Superman's whereabouts." There, that came out well: tired, frustrated, but calm.

Clark had the common sense not to point out that she could just as easily sit in the comfort of her own home and watch TV, since any new information would be broadcasted ASAP. Instead, he offered her one of the universal pacifiers: "Coffee?"

The rational, responsible side of Lois would have said something like, "No thanks, I'm already vibrating on Espresso overload." But, apparently, her vocal cords weren't entirely controlled by her responsible side, since what she actually said was, "That would be really nice—if there's a pot of decaf on." That was reasonable, wasn't it?

"Sure." Clark looked a little hesitant, as if he was afraid he might be pushing his luck, but asked anyways. "Can I get you something out of the vender, while I'm over there…?"

She had to hand it to him, for all his apparent cluelessness, the guy seemed to know what he was doing; if anything could break down the defenses of a woman in a bad temper, it had to be the magical combination of coffee and chocolate. "Anything chocolate would be perfect."

Clark smiled as if she'd paid him some kind of compliment, moving off in the direction of the vending machine.

Lois couldn't help but smile too, shaking her head as he narrowly avoided collision with a man walking briskly down the aisle. What on earth was one to make of Clark Kent? The man was usually like some living, breathing parody of a classic farm-boy/geek/total dweeb. She could just imagine him as a kid, everything about him practically begged bullies to "Pick me! Pick me!" At the same time, he was one of the most down-to-earth and considerate people she'd ever met—if a bit invisible, and downright bashful at times. That was Clark: strange but undeniably endearing. When you remembered he was there, that was. Usually, in the work-place, whatever story she was currently occupied with engaged the forefront of her attention.

"Here." Clark was back, bearing both a steaming cup of coffee and a Hersheys bar.

She accepted them from him, taking an appreciative sip of the coffee. "You're a real life-saver. I didn't ever realize how much I needed this until you offered."

"No problem…"

Lois shot him a glance as she unwrapped the chocolate bar. Even for Clark, the reply sounded rather absent-minded. He was looking a little pale now that she took the time to notice. "Hey, you don't look so good yourself. You feeling okay?" Amazing how one square of chocolate, and the promise of the rest of the bar, made you feel not only worlds better, but like you could even show a little less self-absorption. And Clark really wasn't looking that good.

"Me? Oh, no, no… I'm doing great."

Lois raised an incredulous eyebrow. Funny how he could make it sound like a crime to be caught with anything more serious than a head-cold. It wasn't like any of his co-workers set that kind of a precedent…

"Well, I mean, I've got a bit of a headache, but I'm doing okay. I'm actually going to head out soon myself, I think." He jerked his thumb in the general direction of his desk. "I'll just go… wrap up a few things first…"

"Thanks again, Clark. Take care of yourself."

She finished her coffee in-between bites of chocolate, and by the end felt so relaxed she actually could have gotten some work done. But the force of suggestion was making her feel lazy, and going home was beginning to sound pretty attractive. She could haunt the TV from her couch for a while, in the hope that Superman would make an appearance, or at least give Metropolis some sign he was still alive.

As she was preparing to go, the image of a burning building flashed on the TV, with fire-fighters working to extinguish the flames. She paused long enough to hear the catch-phrase of the day: "Still no sign of Superman."

With a sigh, she turned to go, never noticing how Clark had paused to watch as well, or how the shadow of sadness that crossed his features hardened subtly into resolve.


Green was definitely his least favorite color.

Even the thought of that green substance somehow seemed to make his Clark's headache worse. He'd been honest with Lois, though. It was "just" a headache, albeit a throbbing one that had been steadily present for the last few days. The distracting, pulsing ache behind his eyes was going to drive him mad if he didn't get a reprieve soon.

He probably should have been thankful for the fact that the growing quantity of Kryptonite in the city seemed so far to be having a minimal effect on him. Compared to what he could have been feeling by now, a headache was manageable. Maybe. Problem was, the effect couldn't remain minimal forever, if this mysterious supply of Kryptonite continued to expand.

It was a comfort, and touching, to know that most of the citizens of Metropolis were also worrying on his behalf. But that comfort was limited. Disarming unknown numbers of criminals was a daunting task—the kind of task the newspapers would have heralded as a "Job for Superman". The law was cracking down hard on anyone caught in possession of Kryptonite, and working hard to find everyone who did have any. But it was a meticulous and overwhelming undertaking, and as quickly as one man was disarmed, another two seemed to be armed in his stead.

He'd been thinking about the statistics and probabilities all day. Now that he was home, or at least the nearest thing he had to a "home" in Metropolis at the moment, he didn't want to think about it until morning if it was possible. Which it probably wasn't.

Then, of course, there was his biggest dilemma: he had to decide what Superman was going to do about all this. He wouldn't leave, but every day he stayed he ran the risk of being exposed to more Kryptonite than he could handle. Actually, even a small piece fashioned into a weapon, could be enough to finish him. But how could he stay, and not answer the calls for help that continuously beckoned to him from across the city? If he could just get rid of the headache for an hour, so he could think straight…

Exhaustion and pain weren't entirely foreign to him, but his childhood experiences were long ago, and he'd been hoping to forget his more recent ones. As he climbed the stairs to his newly-rented apartment, Clark tried, with minimal success, to push the exhaustion and pain that were presently clouding his senses to the background. The accumulative effect of all the Kryptonite surrounding him was making him feel so…human. So weak. He hadn't actually lost any of his powers, technically, but he felt tired like hadn't felt for a long time. Not to mention hungry.

It didn't help that one of his neighbors was, apparently, cooking up quite the meal. He'd smelled the delicious aroma since he first entered, and it had only grown stronger as he approached his door. Wonderful as a meal sounded, cooking anything was the last thing he felt like doing. He was thinking more along the lines of collapsing for a few hours, and selfishly tuning out the world, so that he just might be able to play both Superman and Clark Kent the next day.

As he inserted his key into the lock and began to turn the handle, he realized with surprise that not only were those appealing smells coming from his apartment, but there were also sounds coming from within. He could hear the TV on, and pots and pans being moved around. Perhaps some deranged criminal out to trap Superman had discovered his true identity, gotten into his apartment, made themselves at home and…started cooking. Wouldn't that have been an elaborate trap? he mused wryly, cutting through the door with his x-ray vision—and smiling at what he saw.

"Do you intend to scare your mother to death? Come in here, Clark—I've been worrying about you ever since I heard the news."

He couldn't have asked for a more welcoming sound. Although the words were reproving, they were spoken affectionately and with more concern than accusation. The very loving warmth of her presence seemed, at least for a moment, to hold the Kryptonite's ominous effects at bay. He stepped into his mother's embrace, returning the tender gesture gently.

After she'd apparently satisfied herself that he was there, safe, and to all appearances uninjured, she pulled back a step, though she kept a hand on either shoulder. Her eyes scanned his face, and Clark didn't even try to hide the strain from showing. He'd learned long ago there was no way to fool Martha Kent. "You don't look well at all, my boy. Come over here and have a seat. I've made you some dinner."

"Mom, I—"

"I don't want to hear it." She was already back to bustling around the miniature kitchen. "You've been scaring me half to death, disappearing so suddenly like that after that horrible news, and not calling me, or sending me a message. Now the least you can do is humor me, even if you're not hungry. You used to always say…"

"No, no, it's not like that. I could eat…actually. I haven't had one of your meals in…a long time. It's just—"

She held up an authoritative finger, halting him. "Whatever it is, it can wait. Now take off those ridiculous glasses and eat. We'll talk afterwards."

Clark obeyed, folding his glasses and sticking them in his shirt-pocket. But he had to sigh a little. Clark. Superman. Kal-El. All three of them in their respective identities, or combinations, seemed to be taking turns being bullied around by women today. This, however, wasn't something he was loath to comply with.

"Now, tell me what's going on in that mind of yours."

Clark realized he'd been half asleep, staring at his empty plate for some time. Martha sat across from him, regarding him with gentle patience. "I…" He propped an elbow on the counter leaning the side of his face against his palm—and tried to think of what to tell his mother. It was actually quite simple to outline his problem. Not that the problem itself was simple. "I don't know what to do."

She shook her head slowly, now regarding him with gentle amusement. "Of course you would be the only one questioning what should be done."

He frowned in surprise. "The…only one? Are you saying everyone else knows what the solution is here?"

Martha chuckled, still shaking her head. "Oh Clark. You just don't understand, do you?"

"But, mother, how could everyone else have come to a decision? There's so much to consider…"

"Clark," she interrupted. "there's a whole city out there of people who love you as their own, personal hero. You've saved a lot of lives. I don't think there's ever been a question in their minds as to whether or not you should take the risk of exposing yourself right now."

"You…don't?" The frown on his face engrained itself even more deeply.

"No, I don't. I may be biased as your mother, but I think I speak for Metropolis when I say: don't be an idiot." She gave a small, impatient scowl when all Clark did was narrow his eyes thoughtfully and remain silent. "You know it would be idiotic. Don't you? You do know that?"

Hesitating, Clark bit his lip.

Martha groaned. "Tell me you're not that obtuse. You work for the Daily Planet—and all the papers are screaming the same thing. No one expects you to be Superman right now, not with Kryptonite everywhere like it is."

"It's not that I haven't read that, I know that…" Clark said quickly. "I know no one expects me to. I know a lot of people seem to be pretty adamantly against it. But..." He looked away. "But I expect it of myself. It feels wrong. I can't abandon Metropolis, not again."

"Who said anything about abandoning? You just can't continue now. In a while—"

"In a while, things will only get worse. It's not that I don't have faith in the police, and everything everyone's trying to do to stop this, but… I don't see how they can stop this. More Kryptonite's coming in every day, I can…feel it. It's not going to get better. And that's why I don't know what to do. If this does get worse, I'll be less than useful. I'll be more of a hindrance. But how can I just leave? Someone has to be orchestrating this—getting rid of me for a reason. Which means if I left now, I might very well be abandoning Metropolis when it most needs me." He fell silent, and when his mother didn't reply, he kept his gaze averted, waiting apprehensively for her reaction.

Martha had understanding in her expression, but it was buried under several layers of bittersweet sadness. "You're a good man, Clark Kent. Your father would be proud of you. Both your fathers would be." She sighed, long and heavily. "And I am too. But I don't know if I could stand losing you. Clark…Clark, please, look at me. I know you want to do the honorable thing, you are doing the honorable thing. I guess I…" She gave short laugh. "I guess for once, your mother is wishing you'd grown up to be just little more selfish."

Clark smiled, and reached out across the counter to take her hand. "I'm not dead yet. And I don't plan on taking unnecessary risks."

She didn't point out that his very being in Metropolis was rather an unnecessary risk in her book. "I know, I know…"

"I mean, I know it's all going to be risky… But at this point, I think I should wait, do as much as I can, and see what happens." He watched her expression anxiously, hoping to see acceptance, if not approval, there. "Everyone—the people of Metropolis—they do seem to be kind of…watching my back for me," he offered cautiously, with a small smile.

She smiled back, as genuinely as she could manage. "And they had better do a good job of it, too. You need some looking after."

He grinned.

"Be careful, my boy. Be careful."

"I will, mother."


What was she doing up here? He hadn't come yesterday, or the day before that, or the day before that. Superman would find her when he wanted her. If he was still alive.

At the very top of the Daily Planet, Lois gazed out across the skyline of Metropolis. It was near dusk, and the sight reminded her of nights before. Of flying. Of feeling almost immortal, separated from the world, floating above it with Superman. He'd mirrored her own wonderment smilingly, knowingly. He knew the exhilaration of flying on a level of freedom no one else could, and it had been obvious he'd enjoyed seeing her experience it like he did. It had been incredible. She could hardly find the words to describe it. Which was saying a lot, considering her profession.

The wail of sirens broke the wonder of her memory. She shut her eyes tightly, listening to the eerie but all-too-familiar noise fade into the distance.

Oh Superman… Where are you? Couldn't you have left us some message—something

Crime hadn't risen by too large a percentage. Yet. But criminals were becoming bolder again, knowing first of all that Superman was missing, and second of all that he wasn't invulnerable anymore. Many of the criminals who were caught had Kryptonite in their possession. If Superman had been the one to stop them instead of the police… Maybe he did stop one of them, an uncomforting voice in her head whispered. Or tried to stop them.

Lois had too many emotions tangled up in this problem, personal, and otherwise. The death of the hero of Metropolis would affect her on more than one level. The thought of all that could happen, and all that could have already happened, sent her unconsciously digging in her purse for a cigarette and lighter. Once she had it out, though, she could only stare at it, and then slowly look to the skies.

Well, Superman, are you going to come save me from lung cancer or not?

But the cigarette made it to her mouth without a sign of the superhero making an appearance. She sighed with a self-disparaging roll of her eyes, and lit it. So much for her attempt at a decoy. Plan number two: take a free-fall off the edge of the building? It might work. It might not. In which case she'd go splat. Maybe going out and seeing if she could find a willing mugger might be a less drastic course an action to try first.


The rush of relief-induced adrenaline on hearing his voice made her feel a little light-headed. Well, actually, that was probably equally the fault of all the caffeine and exhaustion, reacting when she spun too quickly to face him. "You're alive…"

He inclined his head, looking a little awkward under the sudden onslaught of scrutiny and visible concern. As if searching for something feasible to say next, he glanced at the cigarette she held, forgotten, between her fingers. "You really shouldn't…smoke."

The cigarette fell from her fingers. Without looking down, she extinguished it with the heel of her shoe. But, in the wake of her relief, she found herself irrationally, uncontrollably furious with him. "How dare you? How dare you disappear without letting anyone know you were still alive? Do you have any idea how much everyone's been worrying about you?"

Superman winced. His presence seemed to be eliciting the same response everywhere lately. But what could he say in his defense—he'd forgotten? That was sure to go over well. He'd been busy? "I guess I…"

"—Had more important things to do?" She knew she was going over the top, being too harsh, and probably too dramatic, but—God—it made her feel angry to think of him safe, and not saying a word, while the rest of them worried. "None of us knew what to think, whether you were in hiding, or injured, or captured, or dead."

"Lois…I'm sorry," he said quickly, when she stopped to take a breath.

Lois noticed something peculiarly familiar—and decidedly not Superman-like—about the slight stammer he assumed momentarily, along with the sheepish expression on his face. However, she was too worked up to take the time to search her memories for a match. Her wrath was abating, but there was some fire yet unspent. "You can't just keep popping up, save the world a couple of times, make people love you, and then disappear without a word. People care about you, you know. They care about what happens to you."

"I am sorry," he repeated earnestly, meaning it, and this time forcing himself to look her solemnly in the eye.

Well, so much for staying mad, Lois thought wryly. There was absolutely no way to do it, not with him turning those sincere and undeniably truthful blue eyes on her, and looking so impossibly young, and intently apologetic. He was the one in the wrong here, that was undisputable. So why on earth was she suddenly feeling like a drama queen, and a jerk to boot? If she was being snappish, it was only because he'd been irresponsible and insensitive. However much she might have wanted to hang on to her righteous anger, she found herself saying, in a definitely not-angry voice, "Just, please, don't do it again."

"I won't. I promise."

The look of unveiled relief on his face had Lois fighting to hide a smile. Quite a feat, scaring the Man of Steel. The last time she'd looked in the mirror, though, she'd still been a relatively harmless, albeit driven, reporter. Of course, she was nick-named Mad Dog Lane. But she wasn't rabid or anything. She felt relieved herself, though, having received Superman's word of honor on it. He never promised lightly, or "forgot" promises. "So…are you here for an interview?"

"I suppose you could say that." He watched her dig in her purse for her recorder, and added, "Though, I don't think that you will need that. There's not much to tell."

"Oh…really? Why?" She produced the recorder nonetheless, and turned it on. "First of all, where will you go?" Before he could answer, she frowned and flipped it off. "No, wait, that's probably not information the general public should have, since you are, after all, going away to avoid being found by anyone right now… But you could tell me. I swear I won't let a word leak out. It would just be a good idea, in case of emergency, to know where you are so—"


"—if anything happened where we really, desperately needed—"


She paused in her rant to look at him, as if she'd just remembered he was there. "Yes?"

"I'm not going anywhere. I haven't been anywhere else. I've just been biding my time, seeing how things would unfold for the last couple of days, and now—"

It was Lois' turn to interrupt, as his words sunk in. "You're not going anywhere?"

"No… No, I'm not." He gave a small, humoring smile. "That's just what I said."

Lois didn't smile back. "That's ridiculous!"

Superman winced again. He'd had a feeling the news would not make her happy. When she'd been quiet for so long, he had hoped… But at least she didn't look mad at him. Exactly. She looked more exasperated. He decided silence was definitely the better part of wisdom in this situation, and kept quiet.

She paced in front of him, a few steps one way, and then a few steps the other way, her heels clicking angrily. Her voice was admirably even when she finally spoke, pausing in front of him, arms crossed against the chill. "You can't stay."

"I have to."


He sighed. This conversation was getting to be old. But at least he was practiced. "Because, I can't go. I'm not going to leave Metropolis like that again. I'm here to stay now."

Lois muttered something that sounded like "Blue Boy Scout indeed…", and louder, "No one's asking you to leave for good. Just for now. I know it might feel like the cowardly thing to do, but it's also the smart thing to do. And I'll write a front-page article tomorrow. Everyone will know that you left, why you left—and they'll understand."

"You don't understand."

Lois was moving from anger to sarcasm. "Oh, I think I have the full picture. You're back. You're safe. You let the public know you're safe. You leave. You stay alive. Sound simple? That's because it is."

"Yes, it does sound simple. But you know if I leave now, I probably won't be able to ever come back. What do you think criminals world-wide would do in the wake of official news of my departure?"

"The police—"

"The police are doing everything that is…"

"Humanly possible?" Lois picked up wryly.

He smiled. "I have a lot of faith in the law of this country. But there's just too much coming in every day…" he trailed off with a sigh, all humor fading.

Lois sometimes operated on a short fuse, like today, but she also knew defeat when she saw it. And she wasn't angry, really. Just scared that Metropolis was going to lose their superhero, and a good man, to some idiot who had been handed a weapon she wouldn't have entrusted to many, much wiser, men. "Well maybe it's time you considered leaving." She struggled to say the words, knowing they were right, but hating them nonetheless, "For good."

"No. I've made my choice. At least for now, I am staying."

How you could hate and be relieved by an answer simultaneously was a mystery, but she was, torn between protesting and accepting. "You really shouldn't stay," she disapproved weakly.

He didn't reply, just looked at her, faintly amused, knowing she had already capitulated.

Seeing that, she stopped making pretences. She studied him, and realized, anxiously, that he didn't look quite his usual indomitable self. His posture, and stance, although still as irreproachably regal as ever, looked more strained than usual, as if he was tempted to let his shoulders slouch forward a little. The drawn expression on his face, and pale cast of his skin, were even more worrying signs that something was wrong. A slight frown, as if he suffered from a perpetual head-ache, was etched into his forehead.

Weariness looked so out of place on him.

"You can…feel it?" she asked quietly.

He nodded. "It's getting worse."

Watching him, and seeing his exhaustion, brought to mind a question she'd thought about before, but never asked. She knew he drew his power from the sun, and thus spent much time "up there", but it hardly seemed like a home. "Do you have a home? Not like Krypton, but…a place, here? Where do you go to rest, to recover?" Do you have someone who makes sure you stop to take care of yourself every once in a while?

"I have a place to stay," he replied simply.

Before Lois could respond, the cry of sirens, faint and far off, caught both their attention. She saw the infinitesimal change that stole over him. Despite the tiredness she could feel emanating from him, his whole body seemed to go taut at the noise, a determined light entering his eyes, and some of the pain easing from his brow as he listened.

She looked at him ruefully, realizing he was as good as mentally gone from the conversation—probably stretching his hearing to seek the source of the problem, already assessing the situation. Maybe she could get one last, quick promise out of him. "I know you need to go now, but please, go to this…place, wherever it is. Get some rest yourself? You've got a whole, Kryptonite-infested city to save—tomorrow."

He was already rising into the air, ready to bolt straight in the direction of the now even fainter sounding sirens, but he spared her a brief smile in parting. "Tomorrow."

"Be careful." He was already gone—but maybe he heard her. Lois whispered it in any case. "Be careful, Superman. You've got a half a city watching your back, and the rest trying to kill you. Let's hope we're the more vigilant."

To be continued…

Feedback would be hugely appreciated, especially since this is my first time writing in the fandom, and I'm anxious to know what all you expert fans think. :) This being my first time, I appreciate advice, but please go easy on me while critiquing…