Author's Note: ...the amnesia kiss. Having dispensed with it for one SRverse story, I wanted to bring it back here. Hope you enjoy.
Disclaimer: this was written for entertainment purposes only.
On the way back up, he was alone in the elevator. His reflection was mirrored in the polished brass of the doors and he stared at it. Every day, at any moment, he was called upon to make split-second decisions, big decisions, matters of life and death decisions. As far as possible he avoided second guessing the outcomes, but he was doubting himself now.
She had been so broken and he had fixed her. Instinct demanded it. He was strong enough to bear the pain of their separation alone- he had spared her that hurt. And afterwards, when she looked at him and her eyes were clear and the sadness they had held was gone, he knew it had been worth it.
The elevator arrived on the floor and the doors dinged open. The first thing Clark noticed was that both Leueen and Lois were in Mr White's office. He checked his step, unsure whether it was best to head straight over there or pretend that, distracted amongst the noise and the busyness of the newsroom, he hadn't seen them. Then, through the partition glass, his eyes locked with his editor's and the matter was decided for him.
Carrying Lois's burger in one hand and her orange juice in the other, Clark pushed open Perry's door by extending an elbow. He was just in time to catch Lois insisting she was fine and Perry ignoring her.
Perry, leaning over his desk, looked straight at Clark, "Lois, here, says she fainted."
Lois shot her boss a look, "That's not what I said."
"What would you call it?"
"I," there was a beat while Lois gave it some thought. Her chin tilted, "...had a moment," she ventured, primly.
Perry shifted his gaze to the lady on Lois's right. "Leueen?"
Leueen considered the events of the last half hour. She scrunched her face, eventually diagnosing, "It looked to me like more of a kind of dizzy spell, Chief."
Clark gazed back at Perry, then the expectant faces of Lois and Leueen. Apparently called on to arbitrate, he stammered, "Uhh, the second one?"
Lois seemed unimpressed that this much fuss was being made. "Perry, I'm fine."
Perry removed one hand from the desk, shifted his weight and hooked his thumb into the back of his belt, "How did you get into work today?"
Lois looked at him. "I took the train."
"Don't tell me how you usually get in- I want to know how you got in today- specifically?"
She was forced to admit, "I don't know."
"You don't know or you don't remember?"
"What's the difference?" Lois asked testily. "Both! I don't know?"
"What's the last thing you do remember?"
"Before..." with a weary note of resigned acceptance, Lois gestured to Leueen and then made quotation marks in the air, "the 'dizzy spell'?"
Breezily, she said, "Niagara Falls."
Lois could only nod and shrug that it was true. "Chief- I don't know what to tell you?"
"Niagara Falls?" A look of dismay darkened Perry's face. "You said you couldn't remember back to this morning?"
"Niagara Falls was last week."
At a loss, Lois could only agree, "Clearly, something's amiss."
Perry's frown turned itself to Clark, "What about you? Do you feel okay?"
Suddenly remembering, Perry pointed, his right eye squinting in examination, "What about yesterday. You were off sick, too."
"Yes. The flu," Clark nodded, quickly. "I think I caught a little chill with, you know, the water and everything."
Perry's attention moved back to Lois, "Maybe it's the same thing- maybe you caught the flu?"
For a second, Lois just looked at him. "Yes, Perry. That's what it is." She fluttered her hands upwards in the air, "You solved the big mystery. I caught the flu. You know; that well-known strain where it doesn't make you sick in any way, you just suddenly forget where you were for three days straight."
Perry's lips pinched at her tone. At Leueen's raised eyebrows, he said, "Thanks Leueen, you can go." He waited for the door to come to a rest before picking up the handset of his telephone. "I'm going to make some calls now, Lois, to Metropolis General. And you're going to take some time off."
Lois rolled her eyes but she could tell by his manner that his decision was not up for negotiation.
"Obviously, you've had some kind of delayed reaction to a fairly eventful few days, so here's what's going to happen;" he held up the receiver in his hand, "we're going to do everything the experts on the other end of this line tell us to do. To the letter. Then, when you're passed fit for work, I'm going to keep you off the roster for a few assignments. Ease you back in."
She folded her arms. "Ease me back in."
Perry nodded. "When you're ready to come back, you can piggyback with Kent."
They both looked up to where Clark was standing, her food order still in his hands.
He gave a self-effacing smile and held out the carton, "Orange juice?"
"If you can hear me. If you're out there. I'd really like to talk."
He spent a lot of time hovering in the air outside her building. Close, but not close enough to be seen. Physically, he made it about a yard nearer to her apartment every night. To call this progress was probably being overly literal. Tonight it was raining. The rain fell lightly, tiny dots that seemed to settle on the skin rather than soak right through. For the thousandth time he asked himself what he was doing here when the entire point had been to back pedal. To reclaim distance. He knew the answers. Doubt, certainly. There was no use in denying it. Then there was the fact that he missed her. She had been absent from their office little more than a week, but he just missed her. And then there was the guilt. The oppressive, straightforward kind, that kept you awake and staring at the ceiling.
There was no shelter, no cover or awning on her terrace, so to protect herself from the weather she had put on her big-collared trenchcoat. She stuck her hands in the pockets, lifted her chin to the sky. He heard her sigh.
He had screwed up before. Had ended up defying gravity and natural law and time itself. But this was different. Somehow, playing God on a larger scale seemed so much less offensive than playing God on a smaller one.
Tendrils of hair caught by the wind whipped over her face. She was waiting. But he couldn't quite bring himself to take the next step and go to her. Not yet. He didn't have the guts. And he hated himself for it.
Dr Lindberg's office was east-facing. Although he kept the blinds drawn, the windows were large and the room was always bright with morning sunshine. Technically, Lois's attendance here was against her will, but the truth was, now into their fourth session, she had found that she quite liked it. A floor-to-ceiling bookcase crammed with well-thumbed copies of Aristotle, and Bacon, and Descartes, and an up-to-date set of the DSM took up one wall, and hung along the others were a series of prints, glass-mounted abstracts by Klee and Kandinsky.
Dr Lindberg himself had a deep voice, an easy manner, and a face etched with wrinkles. He had a hairline that had receded back to the absolute halfway point of his head, and hair that made up for it by being platinum white and completely crazy. He kept a pair of tortoise shell reading glasses in the breast pocket of his corduroy jacket and, if not strictly Freudian, there was enough of the mad scientist about his appearance that Lois found reassuring and appealing. There was a desk in the room, but Dr Lindberg never sat behind it. Instead, he kept his notes on a low coffee table, either side of which patient and psychiatrist faced each other in two easy chairs.
Lois took off her coat and they sat down in the chairs together.
Dr Lindberg pulled himself a little closer on the seat, "Any luck with the testimonials?"
Lois bent over the arm of her chair to root around in her bag. "I got one from everybody. Well." A smile washed over her lips then quickly vanished. "Almost everybody."
She pulled a slim, brown folder out of the main compartment and handed it over.
Dr Lindberg opened the folder on his lap and removed the reading glasses from his pocket. "And have you found them helpful?" He perched the glasses on his nose and began to read.
Lois sat back, a wry expression on her face. She shrugged and held out her palms before clasping them together, "Thirty people there, thirty write-ups, thirty totally different versions of the exact same event."
Dr Lindberg chuckled, nodding to himself.
Lois nodded at the folder, "One of our interns insists there were four intruders plus Luthor, and that one of them was wearing a hat." She lifted the tips of her three middle fingers from her lips- "I have no idea where he was looking."
Unconcerned, the doctor frowned as he scanned over the documents, "Several studies demonstrate that eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable, I'm afraid."
"At work, we have a Diego Rivera mural in the lobby. The design includes the Journalist's Creed; 'Clear thinking, clear statement, accuracy, and fairness'." Lois looked impish, "And a room full of us comes up with this." She raised an eyebrow at the pages in his hands, "Kind of sobering, don't you think?"
Dr Lindberg raised a hand and wiggled his fingers as if to test the air, "Nothing stirs a memory? Nothing jumps out?"
Lois shook her head.
He exchanged the file for the case notes on the coffee table, folding his hands on top of the cover. "You know, on your last visit we touched on your medical history."
"You say, to the best of your knowledge, there's no family record of blackouts, bouts of forgetfulness," there was a searching pause before the doctor glanced up, "any kind of mental ill health?"
"Nope," Lois confirmed easily. After a moment she leaned in to wisecrack, "Unless you count the time my mother baked an entire tray of Jell-O." She chuckled until she realized Dr Lindberg was not following suite. "That's a joke," Lois said, more seriously. "She wasn't concentrating." For clarity's sake, Lois added, "And she was kind of short-sighted."
Then she frowned. "What do you mean, exactly, 'mental ill health'?"
"Depression, panic attacks." Dr Lindberg's bottom lip curled as he looked away, "General feelings of anxiety?"
Lois's eyes flashed. "That describes me every time it's four forty-five and I have twelve column inches to fill."
The doctor gave a polite smile. "I'm talking about those things operating at a much deeper level." His thumbs raised as he elaborated, "A certain way of looking at the world."
Her forehead dimpled as she followed the thread of what he was suggesting. "I'm not a depressive."
The tortoise shell glasses were taken off and his eyes zeroed in on hers. "You climbed over a rail and jumped into Niagara Falls, Lois."
"I was testing out a theory."
"That one of your," Dr Lindberg consulted his notes, "co-workers," he looked up, "moonlights as Superman." His face was solemn but devoid of judgment.
Somehow that was so much worse. Recognizing how it sounded, Lois swallowed. Maybe it was time to just sack up and face the facts. Nostrils flaring, eyes dark and intense, but full of composure, she said, "Am I nuts?"
Genuine warmth spread out over the doctor's features. "This time lapse you've experienced- it's a characteristic reaction to all kinds of psychological trauma."
Lois didn't look comforted. Dr Lindberg came further forward in his chair and leaned in, his elbows against his knees, "I see people all the time. Patients who've been in car accidents, suffered brain hemorrhages," he threw up a hand, "had a bad reaction to toxic chemicals." He looked off to one side, running his palm over the top of his head and over the back of his luxuriant hair. "Of course, the interesting thing, the confounding thing is that, in this case, there is no accompanying delusion, no side effect, or extenuating complication at all." He returned his gaze to her and gripped his hands together, "This is the situation; I'm happy to sign you off as medically competent to return to your office right now. Your editor has one more session scheduled for us for Friday." He tapped his hands to his knees, "I suggest you come back then and we use it to discuss any follow-up treatment. You have a range of options. There's medication, holistic therapy, hypnosis..." He opened his hands, "I'd be happy to refer you."
Lois sighed. "Do you think follow-up treatment would help?"
Dr Lindberg grimaced and he looked as if he had sat on something particularly sharp. "It really depends on what you mean by 'help'." He steepled his fingers and pressed them together, the genesis of a smile appearing as he warmed to a theme, "When we suffer a cut or a bruise, the body heals physically. It takes time but we can see it, watch it, follow the process." His smile turned lopsided, "It seems it's harder for us to accept that cognitive rehabilitation occurs like this too. The human brain likes answers. It likes to tidy things away; to check things off; to finish the crossword; complete the number puzzle," he paused, his gaze on her, "fill in the gaps." He opened and closed his fingers against each other, "It seems it's harder for us to accept that the mind might heal and leave no trace of the wound behind."
Lois regarded him. "So, what you're saying is-"
"You have a specific block of time missing in your life, Lois. Maybe you'll never know what happened, or why." Dr Lindberg's voice grew kind and soft, "Maybe you'll never know for a reason."
It turned out that Perry was as good as his word. For her first day back, Lois was invited to join Clark in the basement archives doing the kind of entry-level grunt work they could both do standing on their heads. Perry wanted everything the paper had ever printed on UFO sightings, crop circles, alien abductions, flying saucers- everything. No matter how spurious or wacky. For her part, Lois found most of the articles she dug up both spurious and wacky, but these stories simply couldn't be discounted as far-fetched anymore. She also understood that the assignment was for her benefit, and was as tedious for Clark as it was for her, although he made nothing of it. In any case, they spent the day working diligently.
There was no natural light down here, even during the day, although 'basement' was a slight misnomer and the archives were simply the bottom floor of the fourteen separate stories that took up the offices of the Planet. But the windows were blacked out, and the shelves that disappeared into the darkness were dusty, and, under the yellow light of two anglepoise lamps, it was easy to imagine you were not halfway up a sixty-five story skyscraper at all.
Like in a library, long draftsman tables took up space in the center aisles, with computer terminals spaced out evenly along a counter that ran the length of the outer wall. They were working at one of the first center tables, on either sides of a corner. Clark took up the short side and it meant that Lois was in profile to him. Beyond her, above the entrance on the far wall, an old IBM clock marked time. It showed that normal office hours had come and gone and it was a little past eight-thirty. Its rhythmic tick-tock was the only sound in the room.
Lois was bent over the desk, running the index finger of her left hand down the open pages of a leatherbound Daily Planet ledger. With her other hand she was idly twirling her hair with the end of a pen. Every so often she would stop either to bookmark a page with a pink note or take a sip from a bottle of water. Clark spent less and less time scanning through documents and more and more time stealing glances at her. He couldn't help himself. To just be near her, it was supposed to be enough. But they hadn't been alone together like this since he kissed her and he could feel the weight of their history pulling on him. Where he was sensitive to her every breath and movement and nuance, she remained oblivious of him. Sitting across from her, taking everything about her in, remembering what it had been like to touch her, and to be touched, it was both wonderful and at the same time-
Startled, Clark took a moment to refocus, "Mmm?"
With no obvious sign that he had broken her concentration, without even looking up, Lois said, "You're doing it again."
He blinked. "What?"
"Staring at me," she told him. "It's kind of creepy." She reached for the water, unscrewed the cap, took a swig, put the cap back, "And it makes me nervous."
"I was ...not staring," he protested, lamely.
"Yes," she informed him, unfazed. "You were."
"...I was gazing." He dropped his head back to his own work and mumbled- "Very intently."
All of a sudden, in one elegant leg-crossing movement, she swiveled the chair to face him directly, one elbow resting on the surface of the desk, the other hanging off, hands linked together with her fingers. He glanced up. She inhaled a long breath, and breathed it out again. She looked calm, poised and relaxed. His heart ached- and devastatingly beautiful.
Clear, quick eyes fixed on his. "Ask me what day it is today."
Clark frowned, "Today? It's-"
With closed eyelids she cut across him, but there was patience in her tone; "Just ask me."
Clark hesitated. Carefully, he said, "What day is it today?"
"Thursday. Ask me what my full name is?"
"What's your full name?"
"Lois Joanne Lane. Ask me to name the first three perfect numbers?"
They looked at each other. "Name the first three perfect numbers?"
"Six, twenty-eight, four hundred ninety-six. Ask me to tell you, in chronological order, the plays of William Shakespeare that don't include a character's name in the title."
Clark got as far as opening his mouth before she reeled off, "The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love's Labour's Lost, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, The Merry Wives of Windsor, All's Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest."
There was a rise and fall of her shoulders while her eyes never left his.
"You missed out 'The Two Noble Kinsmen'."
An eyebrow twitched upwards at his smartassery. "I excluded Two Noble Kinsmen from the list on account of the fact that it carries dual authorship." She leaned forward a little, "I'm fine." The steeliness of her expression was softened by the beginnings of a stubborn smile; "So quit worrying about me." She turned away, back to the work in front of her, "It's completely unnecessary. And," her hands flexed straight as they rested on the edge of the table, "it makes me nervous."
Clark continued to watch her. "It's just you seem a little-"
They fell into silence again. Clark did as she did and tried to direct his attention onto the papers spread before him. It wasn't long before he began to fidget.
"So, have you talked to Superman yet?"
There was a quick, almost inaudible sigh, but she didn't look up from the papers in her hands. She sounded the 't' as she said, "Yet?"
"Since, you know." He cleared his throat, "It all happened."
Her eyes searched the page looking for something, her lips pressed into a line, "I haven't seen him."
"Because maybe he knows something."
"May-be," she drawled, already through with the line of conversation.
After a moment, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Clark elaborately noticing the time on the clock and checking his watch. He piped up, "You know, I think we should call it a night."
"You can go." She stubbed the end of the pen at a more recent-looking pile of ledgers. "I'm going to stay on and finish these."
"C'mon." He stood, picked his jacket off the back of his chair and pulled it on, nodding his head at the rest of the books and boxes of unopened files. "They'll still be here tomorrow."
She reached for her water again, took a drink, placed it back down. "It's fine. I'm going to stay." She smiled at him and returned her attention to the book in her hands, signaling that for her, this was the end of the matter.
His fingers drummed a quick reveille on the top edge of the chair. "Stay until when?"
"Until I'm done."
"I'd really rather you didn't."
Her head tweaked to the side, "I really wish I cared."
Clark shrugged, undeterred. "I'm not leaving without you."
A pen twirled between her fingers, "Then you better sit back down."
He began, "Lois-"
"Clark," she said hotly. "You keep treating me with kid gloves-" she stopped, turned, raised her eyebrows at him, implacable and earnest, "I'm going to have to punch you in the face."
At his sigh, one hand flourished through the air, "I don't need to be escorted out of here like an old lady at the crossing, okay?" Her fingertips pushed off the sides of her temple, "I can't remember some stuff- I'm not ...ill."
Clark swayed on his feet, "You told me you were sick this morning."
She brushed him off, "I feel fine now."
To her consternation, her partner did not seem to be paying much attention. Airily, he said, "Anyway," and picked something off the elbow of his jacket, "what makes you think it's you I'm worried about?"
Like two poker players down to the final hand, they stared at each other.
"'Down these mean streets a man must go...'" Clark let that hang out there and nudged his glasses.
Lois eyed him with disbelief, "I can't believe you're quoting Raymond Chandler at me."
"If something happened to me out there, you know you'd never forgive yourself." He didn't blink.
She crossed her arms at him. He raised his eyebrows. She pursed her lips.
He stifled a grin of victory because he had her at 'mean streets' and they both knew it.
She didn't tell him so, but Clark was right. It felt good to be out in the fresh air and heading home. It was not a cold night and a pleasant breeze tugged at their overcoats and pushed through their hair as they made their way through the city. They walked slowly, hands in pockets, enjoying Metropolis at this time of day, chatting about everything and nothing much. Lois was able to catch up on a week's worth of office gossip. As seen through the lens of Clark Kent, it was not particularly juicy, but she did learn that Lifestyle were finally getting the new paper shredder they had been campaigning for and it looked like the next head of the international section was going to be a nephew of Perry's.
By the time they had turned the corner into her street, almost an hour had passed since they had walked out of the Planet. As they sauntered up to her steps, Lois glanced over at Clark, "And just so we're clear, I allowed YOU to walk ME home," she stuck her thumb to her chest, "for the sake of expediency."
He nodded in agreement. "Of course."
She lifted her shoulders, "An easy life."
She bent her neck to incline her head to him, and swished out an arm, "Because it doesn't make sense for me to double back on myself."
They stopped outside her building. "And," she drew out the word before turning to him and deliberately looking him up and down, "I know what you're like."
Clark gazed into the distance thoughtfully, "I'm- "
"The bane. Of my existence," she finished for him brightly, augmented by a dimpled grin.
Clark squinted, looking to the side, "I was going to say 'gentlemanly and old-fashioned."
Lois shook her head, "You drive me crazy." Fondness touched her eyes, as she added softly, "But your heart's in the right place."
A small, tender smile provoked a wrenching of the heart in question and Clark had to hide the flinch.
"Thankyou for walking me home." She leaned in to kiss him on the cheek. Clark felt fire at the brushing of her lips on his skin but she was unaware of her effect. She stepped away, "I'll see you tomorrow."
With his hands at his sides Clark nudged his head to indicate the spot where he was stood, "I'll meet you here first thing and escort you in."
At her sharp look, he held up his hands, "Kidding."
She shook her head again. Then she lifted one shoulder, "I'm not in first thing. It's my last appointment."
They were both serious now. "How's that going?"
She shrugged. She seemed to be about to leave but then something stopped her. "Can I ask you something?"
"About what happened on that newlyweds assignment?"
Clark became aware of an increase in his heartbeat and the heat rising on the back of his neck, but he kept his voice steady. "Sure."
"You wrote down that after Superman saved me, he told you he was taking me home. Back to Metropolis."
A look of inquiry creased the corners of her eyes. "Did we go somewhere first?"
Internally, big, red warning signs were blazing on and off. Externally, he feigned conscientiousness and gave the impression of having to think about her question. "By 'we' you mean..."
The breeze teased a tress of hair across Lois's face and she tucked it behind an ear. "Me and Superman."
"Um, I don't know? Uh, possibly, I guess." He cleared his throat again. "Why?" It was an effort to keep his voice neutral, "Do you remember something?"
She held his gaze, and for a moment Clark could swear it was all there, in her eyes. She was going to tell him that the jig was up. She was going to tell him that she remembered everything. Everything. She was going to tell him that she thought he was a jerk, to never do something like this ever again, and that it was a good job she loved him so much, otherwise he was going to have go far further than simply grovel, and beg, and submit to her indiscriminate and indefinite bidding, before he won back her trust.
Instead her expression cleared. "Absolutely nothing." There was a slight shake of her head, "It's just blank." A smile returned to her eyes, and Clark felt his heart puncture all over again. "It's unbelievably frustrating."
"You should probably talk to Superman."
She held her arms out wide, "He knows where to find me, Clark."
He managed a milky smile.
She plunged her hands back into her pockets and jutted her bottom jaw to one side, chewing on the edge of her teeth. "You know, my dad. 'Follow your instincts'. 'Trust your gut'. That's what he always taught us." She was skewering the heel of her shoe into the sidewalk, "Something doesn't feel right, you know?"
Clark's mouth was dry. "How do you mean?"
She took a deep breath in through the nose. "I feel like," she paused, letting the breath out again, "like, what I want to know is there. But it's hidden. Locked away- just beyond my reach." She considered it some more, "Like a secret just waiting to be let out into the light." Her eyes narrowed, "I've just got to peel away the veil."
She glanced across at Clark then and was taken aback by the expression on his face. He looked so serious. "You know, secrets. They exist for a reason. They're not always meant to be told."
She laughed. "That's essentially what my therapist said." A little gnomically, she added, "I'm not sure I agree."
The tightness that had been visible on Clark's jaw seemed to ease. "How does the saying go? Discretion is the better part of valor."
She blinked knowingly at him a couple of times, responding, "Where secrecy reigns, ignorance delights."
A smile tugged the corners of his mouth. "Loose lips sink ships."
"A problem shared is a problem halved."
"Silence is golden."
She was fighting to keep her own grin off her face, "The squeaky wheel gets the grease."
"You should look before you leap."
"Nothing ventured, nothing gained," she shot back, and for a second, for once, she thought she had him.
Instead one eyebrow appeared above the rim of his glasses, "Wise men make proverbs and fools repeat them."
It unleashed a wide, toothy smile. "I thought wise men sing only fools rush in?"
"No, only fools fall in love." Clark's matching smile started to fade. Lois watched it and found herself noticing that under the streetlights she could see the bags under his eyes. "Everybody keeps secrets, Lois."
"Yeah," she looked skeptical, "but from yourself?" She shook her head as if to clear her thoughts, sighing, "I don't know." She inclined her head the other way, "I'm going in."
Clark nodded. "Night."
She moved away and made it to her threshold before he blurted, "Lois."
She turned back, face half lit up.
But the air left his lungs. His jaw worked. "Nothing," he managed, "Nothing."
She said goodnight a second time and his eyes tracked up as he watched her into her building.
She dropped her keys onto the sideboard and with one hand balancing herself against it bent one knee then the other to pull off her shoes. She didn't remove her coat though. She padded through the apartment stopping briefly at the kitchen. Sometimes, to unwind, she liked to take a glass of red wine or a bottle of beer out onto the balcony. Ever since her blackout, she just hadn't felt like a drink. Finding herself not in the mood tonight either she moved on and it struck her that the last time she'd consumed alcohol of any kind must have been the champagne in the honeymoon suite. Unconsciously, her hand went to rub at her forehead. It was not anything she could name or put her finger on, but, even excluding the mental side of things, physically, something still felt off.
She opened the doors and crossed the terrace to lean her wrists on top of the wall. The moon was rising and the sky was the dark blue of a winter sea. Overhead she followed the winking lights of a plane banking away from Metropolis International. She wondered who was on it and where they were going.
Lois jumped, nearly leaving the ground. She put her hand against her chest, "Boy." She gave him a sidelong glance, "You and Clark."
At his puzzled expression, Lois waved her hand- "With the silent stare-y thing."
He smiled apologetically, "Sorry, I didn't mean to sneak up on you."
She took a good hard look at him. It had been a while. "Been here long?"
He floated himself off the parapet and to the floor, "I just saw your lights."
"I just got home."
They were nodding at each other. Finally, Superman said, "How is everything?"
Lois folded her arms and even though she was now barefoot, she did that thing with her heel again. Her eyes looked up, moving left and right as she emphasized each point, "You mean after I hurled myself seventy-five feet into the continent's most powerful water rapids, showed up back at work only to have it trashed right in front of me by a bunch of superpowered criminals hellbent on world domination, who then kidnapped me in order to hold me hostage in an undisclosed arctic location?"
His eyebrows twitched.
"Pretty good, yeah," she concluded with sarcastic relish. "Oh, except I don't remember any of it."
She thought he remained remarkably sanguine at the admission. "You don't remember?"
She nodded deliberately with her chin, "I'm basically missing an entire chunk of my life. Retrograde amnesia. Apparently. Possibly brought on by PTSD."
Superman took a deep breath. "Have you-"
"Talked to somebody?" she interrupted. "Sought professional advice? Reconstructed, piece by piece, hour by hour, everything I missed by getting the people that I was with at the time to write it all down? All of the above." A look crossed her eyes, "There're a couple of pieces missing. I was hoping you could help me with that."
He swallowed. "What do you want to know?"
A hollow, mirthless laugh escaped her. "What the hell happened to me?" She tried to read him. He looked concerned, of course. And definitely a little uncomfortable.
"What's the last thing you remember?"
She blew out a breathful of air. "The Horseshoe Falls, with Clark. I remember hitting the water." Her eyes clouded, then cleared again. She looked at him, "Then I was stood at my desk, coming to, and it was three days later."
Superman nodded, agreeing that her account tallied with his own, "I heard you call and I came back. Somehow, Clark had managed to grab a hold of you. By the time I arrived you were helping each other to dry land."
Impatient, Lois nodded that she already knew this much from Clark. "Then what?"
His eyes seemed to bore into her. "I took you home."
Despite himself, he hesitated. Get a grip. "Yes."
"And I was conscious?"
He narrowed his eyes just slightly, "I guess you might have slept a little on the way?"
She shook her head that that was not what she meant, "I mean, I was," now she was the one that hesitated, her eyelids flickering as if embarrassed with herself, "in my right mind?"
She watched the mischief come into his eyes, "It's always so hard to tell."
Off her look, contritely, he said, "Yes."
"And then what?"
He was staring again. "I left you."
Her hands opened, "And then the next time you saw me..."
He seemed reluctant to even say the word, "Zod. And friends." He added, "Luthor had shown them to the Planet."
"You know, I went to visit him. Luthor."
She saw that she had surprised him, and a small, petty part of her was glad to be the one on surer footing for once.
"He wrote a testimonial for me," she explained. "He said-." She stumbled and had to begin again, "He said, at the place I was taken to- your Fortress. He said we looked... very close."
He was struggling, she could tell. There was more. She pleaded, "What happened?"
His head dropped.
"You can tell me."
At his side his hands were knotted into fists. Her heart went out to him, but she needed to know, "If something bad happened." She came forward, shaking her head, "There were three of them- I wouldn't blame you."
His head snapped up, "God, no- it's nothing like that."
Trying her hardest to sound braver than she felt, she said, "Whatever it is, I can handle it." The line of her jaw tightened with resolve, and she waited.
Finally, he seemed to settle on an answer. His voice was strained, "They took you because of me. And you could have been killed. That's what happened, Lois."
Their eyes met, and as soon as they did she knew the wall had gone up. She was unable to mask the look of disappointment that settled on her face.
"It's a way of protecting me," she replied, her flat, even-edged tone, and the deliberate way she paused afterwards, indicating the non sequitur was intentional. "That's what my therapist said. Why I can't remember."
Somewhere across the city, over the rooftops, an alarm wailed. Her eyebrow arched, "Sounds like trouble." Gently, she said, "You better go."
With his back to her, over the shoulder of his cape, he said, "I'm sorry I couldn't give you everything you needed."
She sounded resigned. "I'm sorry, too."
In the background, the clock was ticking, the big hand making its way to midday. He read the same segment of article another five times over before giving up and pushing it irritably away. His hand rubbed over his mouth.
His gaze snagged on the empty chair in front of him and for a while he was transfixed by it. He puffed out a lungful of air and straightened in his seat. He cleared his throat, "Lois," he said to the chair. "When you asked me about Niagara Falls," his lips pressed together. "There's something you should know." His eyes scrunched closed, and he wilted a little. How the hell do you tell someone you stole their memories? He took another breath in through the nose, sat up and began again, "Lois, there's something you have to know."
He stopped, defeated and frustrated, resolve crumbling away. He took another moment, licked his lips and lifted his head. He dragged the chair closer, placing his elbow on the table, "Lois." His thumb was pinched against the closed fingers of his fist, "I think I might've made a huge mistake." His head dropped against his hand and he massaged his forehead with his fingertips. He froze in that position. With the same hand, slowly, unhooking one ear first then the other he took off his glasses and laid them gently on the table. He looked straight ahead at the chair. "Lois," he said, a little more sternly. "Now don't get mad until I finish."
The sound of someone arriving in the elevator had him quickly replacing the glasses back on his face. The door to the room opened and Clark sprang out of his chair nearly taking the table with him, "Lois! Hey!"
Only her head was poking round the edge of the door, "Hey! You busy?"
He steeled himself and in a rush of breath, he said, "We need to talk!"
Her head ducked and bobbed side-to-side- she had been looking for more of a yes or no type response. She squinted, "Can we talk on the way?"
He swallowed. "I think it's best if we talk now."
Lois pushed her sleeve back to check her watch and grimaced. Clark felt his courage wane and dissipate like warm air out of an open window.
With a sag of his shoulders, he folded. "Way where?"
She looked energized as she hooked a thumb backwards, "I just got in and checked my messages. One of my buddies downtown has left me a heads up about who the boys in blue have just dragged in on an aggravated assault charge."
"Justice Miranda Woodrow."
Lois gave him the I know face. "It seems she and ...an intimate acquaintance have had a slight disagreement involving an antique Waterford vase. They're both being held at dep HQ now." Her eyes gleamed, "But I left out the best part."
"What's the best part?"
"The intimate acquaintance she brained with the vase?" Her grin was now ear to ear, "Deputy Commissioner Lowell."
Clark couldn't help it, he was grinning too, "Oh boy."
She nudged her head, "What do you say?"
Clark hesitated for just a second. Then he grabbed his coat and followed her out of the room. He had avoided this conversation this long, and there was no harm in covering the story now and talking to Lois later.
Jimmy was waiting at the elevator bank and the three of them stepped into an empty car together. Stood between Lois and Clark, Jimmy retrieved a sandwich from his knapsack and began to unwrap it, excitedly musing to them, "We've not done this for a while, right?"
Lois was sniffing the air with a concerned frown on her face.
"The three amigos!" Jimmy chirped.
Over Jimmy's head Clark was watching Lois. "Are you okay?"
She looked disgusted, "I'm sorry, but what is that smell?" The back of her hand covered her mouth as Jimmy lifted his sandwich to his lips and she was able to determine the source.
Jimmy followed her accusing gaze and his hairline moved back, "This? It's my egg salad sub." Weakly, he added, "It's my lunch?"
Lois was gagging. "Stop. Stop the elevator- I'm going to throw up."
Clark thumbed the control panel while Lois backed up and away from Jimmy to steady herself against the hand rail. The photographer moved his nose closer to the sandwich. It smelled okay to him. Clark could detect no sign that the food was spoiled either, but the color had gone from Lois's face and as soon as the gap was wide enough she bolted out of the car. Clark and Jimmy stepped out onto the floor after her. She was away down the corridor, stride-sprinting to the nearest bathroom. They watched two sets of double-doors swinging to a close in her wake.
Jimmy still had the half unwrapped sandwich in his hand. He sounded both exasperated and bemused as he said, "That's the second time that's happened to me this week." He rocked back on his heels, "I met up with my cousin on Saturday. She's expecting her second." He leaned in, "Can't stand the sight of mayonnaise."
A thought crossed Jimmy's mind, "Hey, this whole memory loss thing? Maybe it's not post-traumatic stress at all? Maybe it's the hormones talkin'." Jimmy held the sandwich up and took a big bite. Around a mouthful of creamy egg salad, he said, "Maybe she's pregnant!" He smiled as he munched- enjoying his joke. It was then that he caught the look on Clark's face. "You okay, man?"
Clark was stood stock still. It was as if someone had thrown a switch and he had been left idling on pause. It didn't last long and within moments he had recovered himself enough to say, "You know what, Jimmy? I don't think Lois and I are going to make it downtown today, afterall." He reached behind Jimmy to press the 'doors open' button.
Jimmy's brow furrowed, "What? Why?"
Clark placed his fingertips to Jimmy's shoulders, gently backing him into the vacant elevator again. "Why don't you go on ahead- get down to police headquarters. Take those pictures."
Jimmy was clearly puzzled, but he trusted Clark. "Uhhh, sure I-"
Clark smiled politely, "We'll see you back here, okay?"
The photographer's response was muffled and obscured by the elevator doors sliding shut.
As soon as he was alone Clark inhaled a lungful of air to gather himself. He felt lightheaded and out of breath. Back down the corridor, the double doors were opening again.
Looking much better, Lois walked up to him, "Sorry about that," she apologized. "Just lately, I've been really sensitive with dairy." She looked sheepish like she had no idea what was going on with herself these days; "Probably psychosomatic, who the hell knows." She glanced around. "Where's Jimmy?"
"We need to talk. Right now." Even though it was ridiculous, Clark stole a look at her abdomen to x-ray her.
"Okay," she breezed, distractedly. She flattened her hand to her stomach, "Hoo!" Then thumbed the arrow-down call button.
"No, let's go to the roof." Clark pressed the arrow pointing up.
"The roof?" Lois grinned, "We'll be late."
"I've sent Jimmy without us."
Lois was confused. Clark could feel himself coming under her scrutiny, "What's going on?" As she looked at him her face started to change, a kind of baffled amusement replaced by worry, "Clark?"
"Last night. Superman came to see you."
He met her eyes, "Yes."
"When you asked him, he told you he picked you up from Niagara Falls, and took you straight back home."
Her expression sharpened, her tone modulated by her displeasure at two trusted friends obviously taking it upon themselves to discuss private conversations behind her back. "Yes."
There was a whirring of machinery and the elevator light blinked on, followed by the sound of the bell and the doors opening.
"About what?" She clipped.
"Everything. He lied about everything, Lois."
They were staring at each other.
"Superman doesn't lie. He never lies."
Clark opened his hand to usher her into the car. As the doors closed behind him, he reached up to remove his glasses. "Yes, I do. All the time."