Continuing Tales

And Then There Was Light

A Lois & Clark Story
by Anti-Kryptonite

Part 10 of 23

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I was, needless to say, very surprised by the sight that greeted me when I emerged from the bedroom the next morning. Clark, dressed in sweat pants and a t-shirt and already shaved, was planted squarely in the center of the sun bursting through the windows—not that that was surprising. In fact, that had become pretty much par for the course in the past two days. No, what was surprising was that he was doing push-ups under that golden spotlight. And he looked…good. Not old-Clark-from-before good, but oh so much better than seemed possible after a measly fifty-six hours away from Luthor's cell. I didn't see any sign of bruising, and he was more filled out than the paltry amount of food he had been eating could account for.

A terrible thought invaded my mind, an unwelcome intruder I nonetheless couldn't repel.

Had Clark found more of the drug? Had he dosed himself with it? Had his awful symptoms been withdrawal rather than the direct effects of the dosing?

Disgusted with myself, I hurled the thought away and slammed the walls closed against it. That was ridiculous. I had seen Clark after Luthor had dosed him with whatever the drug had been; he had been in pain, weak, suffering, barely coherent. Another dose wouldn't make him better; it would make him worse and undo all the good the past days of freedom had granted him.

Thus assured, I leaned slightly against the door and watched Clark, content to salve the wounds of my heart with the sight of him.

He finished his push-ups, then folded himself into a cross-legged position, his head tilted back, eyes closed, mouth slightly open as he drank in the sun. The lines of tension, the marks of stress, the hints of fear, the moments of irrationality—they were hidden, dissolved away by the sun pouring into him, seemingly imbuing him with everything that made him the man I so respected and admired and…liked.

Not just tolerated as I had tried to convey to the Daily Planet staff, but really, truly liked. Maybe better than anyone else in the world. Even Superman…well, though I was certain I loved him, he was too amazing to merely like.

Clark rolled smoothly to his feet, moving with the grace that had been so characteristic of him and so pointedly missing since his captivity. Then he turned in my direction, his eyes unerringly finding mine, and he smiled.

The brilliant smile.

The incinerating smile.

The smile I had scoffed at, doubted, cursed, ignored, or missed, depending on the day. The smile that had made Toni Taylor take time out from her bid to rule West River. The smile that had charmed Antoinette Baines before she tried to kill us. The smile that really, really should not look so good.

"Good morning, Lois," he said. There was not even the slightest stain of weariness, pain, or fear tainting his voice.

"Good morning." My own, on the other hand, was somewhat hoarse. "Are you sure you should be doing all that?"

"All what?" He blinked innocently. The man was daring me to admit that I had stared at him while he exercised! Well, he could just keep hoping—there wasn't a chance in the world I'd accommodate him.

"Standing in the direct sunlight," I said with a smirk. "You said you got an overdose yesterday. You can't be too careful."

He chuckled. "I'll be sure and watch my intake." He stepped to my side and took my hand—a perfectly ordinary movement and gesture, one that had been enacted between us a dozen times. There was absolutely no reason for my heart to start pumping at a hundred miles a minute or for the temperature to suddenly feel a bit warm. Honestly, there must have been something wrong with that sandwich I'd eaten last night. Or maybe even the smell of the chicken noodle soup had been enough to contaminate me.

"Here, I made breakfast." Clark tugged my hand to lead me to the kitchen. He didn't seem to notice my predicament, which was a relief. I didn't want to worry him, after all; he had enough on his plate. "You've been doing everything for me the past couple of days—I figured it was my turn."

Using the very few ingredients my kitchen boasted, Clark had turned out a surprisingly good breakfast of French toast with cinnamon, sugar, and honey; the coffee he had brewed somehow even managed to taste better than mine. He still drank his tea, making me very glad that I had never gotten around to throwing out that box he had given me, complete with a swallowed back chuckle of amusement, after the night I had burst into his apartment in a fury and he had recommended a soothing herbal tea.

"Good enough?" Clark asked after I had taken my last bite.

"It was very good. Too bad for you," I said with a careless shrug.

Clark's brows rose. "Oh? Why is it a bad thing?"

"Because proving that you can cook a meal out of practically nothing—and one that's edible besides—means you automatically get all the kitchen chores. Congratulations."

"I'll cook," he agreed easily, his eyes sparkling with good humor. "But that means you have to do the dishes."

"Ha!" I scoffed. "You're not even paying rent—that automatically means you've got to earn your keep."

"Earn my place here, you mean?" Something flickered in his eyes, some emotion I couldn't recognize, and though he tried to hide it with a smile, the attempt was so weak that I saw right through it. "Well, you know, I'm sure Perry would let me stay with—"

"Clark!" I narrowed my eyes, replaying the conversation in my head to try and make sense of what had so suddenly doused his playful mood. "I was just teasing. Henderson said it's best if we're both in one place."

"I know, but…" Clark shrugged uncomfortably. "I am better now, and I don't want you to feel like I invaded your space."

"Clark." I reached out and put my hands over his, stilling their nervous skittering across the surface of the table. No matter how much better he looked, the feel of the fragile bones in his fingers and wrist—as well as the abrupt reversal of his mood—was proof enough that he was far from completely recovered. "I want you here. All right? Now, what do you say we get to work?"

His eyes drifted closed, his expression reverting to what it had been when he drank in the sun, and I had the sudden impression that he was taking as much strength from my words as he had been the light. "I'd like that a lot," he finally said.

"Then let's get to it."

Clark had changed, there was no question about that, just as there was no doubt that I, too, had changed a great deal from the person I had been when we were first introduced. And yet it was somehow the easiest thing in the world to slip back into working together. Much as I had once hated to admit it even to myself, Clark was incredibly good at what he did, and he complemented my own work habits and writing style perfectly. I wasn't sure how much of that was natural and how much was purposeful, but regardless, he seemed to have lost none of it. He read much slower than he had before, and he wasn't quite as focused, but he knew the material intimately, backward and forward, which evened things out.

After two months of trying to prove to myself and to the world that I didn't need a partner, I found myself immeasurably—happy, yes, that was the word—happy to have him back. I no longer had to pause and remind myself that I wouldn't need to discuss that with Clark, or look over toward his desk and find myself jolted from my focus at the sight of its emptiness, or start to scribble a note to have Clark look into something and have to catch myself and furiously erase it. Instead, I could ask him where a piece of information I remembered seeing earlier was, or tell him to remember a certain fact so that he could quote it to me later, or just pause to stretch and see him working industriously, meeting me halfway, picking up what I missed, encouraging me with a well-placed word or a silent smile or by virtue of his simple presence.

"Clark," I said abruptly during one of these pauses. "That night when we were working on the boxing scandal—were you really staying late to work on something? Or were you there in case I wanted to 'share my problems?'"

"I…" He set down the file he'd been holding and fiddled with his glasses. "I was finishing up a few things."

"Uh-huh." I didn't look away.

"I…might have been waiting. To see if you needed anything."

"Uh-huh," I said again just because it was kind of funny seeing him squirm. "Hmm. Well then…thank you." And I turned back to my own pile of files, leaving him staring at me in puzzlement. It was far past time to give him a taste of his own medicine, I thought with an inward grin. After all, someone needed to keep him on his toes.

As fun as it was to work with Clark and tease him, though, it was hard to believe the picture of Lex Luthor being formed by everything I was learning about him. The man I had chased for months in pursuit of a story—a story I had, coincidentally, never gotten—the man I had actually dated and allowed to kiss me, the man who had claimed to be my friend as he asked for an extra spoon to the ice cream, and the man who had saved my life from Max Menken, was actually a criminal in a league surpassing Capone and approaching Hitler.

Deception on a city-wide level.



Experiments on children.

Wanton destruction of property.

Framing others for his crimes.

Cold-blooded murder.

Manipulation of public opinion…and of me.

That night he had come to my apartment and complimented me on my singing, he had told me not to look any further than Toni Taylor—he had flat-out manipulated me to keep me from probing past the blonde crime-boss and finding him. The way he had set up Menken and pretended to rescue me…for what? To make me think I could trust him? So I'd tell him what stories I was working on, keep him apprised of any of his criminal endeavors that might be in danger of becoming public? Just to gloat over how easy it was to deceive an award-winning investigative reporter?

And torture, I silently added to the list with an involuntary glance to Clark—that crime above all was impossible to forget. I closed my eyes and clamped my lips over a whimper at the memory of the two thugs throwing Clark back into the cell and the coldness of his skin, the stuttered rhythm of his breathing, the despair when he had wished Superman were there to save me. The way Luthor's eyes had gleamed as he watched Clark's suffering, freely admitting that it gave him immeasurable pleasure.

I stood abruptly, heedless of the fact that I was scattering papers. "You know what, Clark? I could use a walk. You want to get out of here for a while, maybe find some lunch or some groceries?"

Clark blinked but didn't hesitate in setting aside his own work and coming to his feet. "Okay."

Words were trapped behind my dry throat and parched mouth, so we remained silent until we were half a block away from my apartment building. The temperature was colder than it had been the day before, the sun hidden behind snowy-white clouds—excuse enough to loop my arm through Clark's and press close to his side. He willingly allowed me to cling to him, simultaneously comforting me with his warmth and reminding me of everything I had just tried to flee with the feel of his strengthening frame.

"So where are we going?" Clark asked conversationally when we neared an intersection.

"I don't know." I shrugged, regretting the movement when it pulled me away from Clark. I settled myself closer to him, gratified when he finally wrapped his arm around my shoulder. "I just needed to get out of there for a while—get some fresh air."

"I know what you mean." Clark's voice was quiet, but the gentle way he rubbed my arm spoke louder than anything he could have said. A shared understanding passed between us as surely as warmth, a mutual acknowledgement of how much it hurt to be exposed to the kind of evil Luthor dealt in.

Again, I shivered, and again, I pressed closer to Clark, feeling colder now than I had when Superman had taken me toward the stars.

"No snow cones, today, huh?" There was a hint of laughter feathering the edges of Clark's voice, and it warmed me.

"What?" It was hard to think past the sight of his old smile and the sound of his old laughter.

"During the heat-wave, remember?" Clark gestured with his free arm toward a sidewalk vendor we were passing. "We got snow cones and ate them while walking to an interview."

"That's right." My brow creased as I tried to remember the specific occurrence. Clark and I had walked a lot of places, bought snacks or lunch at a dozen different kiosks, and ate together four or five times a week. "I meant to pay for them, but you ran up and gave the man a bill before I could open my wallet."

He shrugged that specific aside. "You had the red flavor and I had the purple. I still can't figure out if you did that on purpose or not—did you know I liked the purple better?"

I didn't answer for a moment, unwilling to tell him that, more than likely, I had taken the red because it had reminded me of Superman; I didn't want to bring up the superhero's name and possibly ruin Clark's good mood. So, finally, I just said, "How do you remember all that?"

"I have a photographic memory," he admitted in a low voice that reverberated through his chest. "And like I told you, I remembered a lot of things…in the cell."

What was I supposed to say to that? I wasn't sure, so I simply reached up and took hold of the hand resting on my shoulder.

"So how have you been, Lois?"

"What?" My brow creased in puzzlement.

"We've talked about me a lot—too much." He shook his head as if putting that topic behind him. "But what about you? There was a whole month I didn't get to talk to you. I suppose you won another Kerth or two?"

"Not exactly," I scoffed. "Superman's dea—disappearance and the fallout from Nightfall's destruction took up most of my attention. I did take a couple days off to relax at the Lexor hotel."

"Relax?" Clark pretended to stagger in surprise. "Lois Lane? I leave for a couple weeks and the whole world turns upside down!"

"Well," I drawled, "I did end up looking out the window and witnessing something that led to the story on Roarke and Harrington's death."

"Aha! I knew it. You can take the reporter out of the newsroom, but you can't take the newsroom out of the reporter." Clark's eyes sparkled with amusement as he grinned down at me. And I couldn't help but smile back, couldn't help but laugh aloud, because Clark was back. My Clark was back—unchanged, unaltered, unaffected by the awful things that had been done to him. He was my partner, my friend, the rock I could lean on. I wasn't alone anymore.

And then Superman descended from the skies and landed before us…and the moment ended.

Clark's smile disappeared, all emotion shuttered behind his eyes. His body tensed, causing him to stumble slightly as he pulled us to an abrupt stop. His hand tightened over my shoulder; I wondered if he was trying to protect me or seeking some assurance for himself.

A flash of some indecipherable emotion passed across Superman's face as quickly as his own shadow flashed across city streets.

"Superman," I greeted him. For myself, I was always happy to see the superhero, and I couldn't help the thrill of excitement that coursed through me at the thought that he might have come just to see me. But for both Clark and Superman's sake, I felt uneasy. There was no denying the heavy tension that simmered between them like its own form of electricity.

"Hello, Lois, Clark." Superman nodded politely. A small smile graced his stern features briefly as he gazed at me; it disappeared when he looked to Clark. "Are you sure you should be out walking the streets? Your bodyguards are looking a bit anxious."

"Bodyguards?" Before I could think better of it, I found myself craning my neck to try to spot them. Whoever Henderson had picked, they were good. I hadn't yet caught a glimpse of them. Feeling a bit foolish—and as a result, bristling a bit—I turned back to Superman. "But we have you watching over us. Besides, Luthor thinks we've caved into his threats—why would he need to target us and stir up a lot of controversy? We're fine, really."

"You should still be careful," Superman chided gently. "I'd hate for anything to happen to you." His gaze moved once more to Clark, and I instantly softened. Of course the superhero would inflict himself with a burden of guilt over what had happened to his friend. It was only natural that he'd become overprotective. Once again, my fledgling tact had failed me.

"We will be," I promised. "We're not going far."

"Clark…" Superman hesitated, his expression so decidedly neutral it was almost painful. "We should talk. Can…can we go somewhere?"

For a long moment, Clark said nothing. With growing despair, I noticed that his face had grown once more ashen-hued, the hint of bruising now discernible against the paler complexion. I opened my mouth to intervene when he abruptly clenched his jaw and straightened, his arm falling from my shoulder. "You're right, Superman. We should talk."

"That's a good idea," I said encouragingly, thrilled beyond measure by this hopeful sign. "I'm sure you have a lot of catching up to do."

"We do," Superman confirmed with a short nod. "And they are things best discussed soon, before anything else can happen."

Clark's eyes narrowed, and he took a small, almost confrontational step toward the superhero. "What else could happen, Superman? With you watching over us, we're the two safest people in the world. Isn't that right?"

I winced at the blatant accusation in Clark's tone, hating the forced neutrality of Superman's expression. "Clark!" I snapped, and his gaze switched to me, softening and mellowing. "Just talk to him, please. Whatever's going on between you…I'm sure it can be straightened out."

"Please, Clark," Superman added, arching his brows.

His shoulders drooping a bit, Clark took a deep breath, the fire that had so briefly filled him seemingly doused, leaving him looking small and frail. I was struck by the sudden feeling that he was slipping irretrievably away from me, which was ridiculous. I above all others knew that Clark and Superman needed to have a good talk.

Superman was a hero, not just because of his superpowers, but because of his manner in regard to others and his dedication to saving others—Clark had to see that the superhero would have saved him if it were at all possible. And Clark was a good man, the most forgiving person I had ever met—one of the reasons he was able to be my partner, I would have to admit if forced to total honesty—and he would surely get over his irrational anger. They were like two brothers, at odds with each other and both too stubborn to sit down and work it out. Therefore, a conversation alone, where they didn't have to speak in code or guard their words, had to be just what they needed.

"Go," I said, tugging on Clark's arm to push him toward Superman. He didn't budge. "I can go shopping and pick up some groceries, then I'll head home. Superman, you'll give him a lift back, won't you?" Not until after the question was out did I remember Clark's fear of flying.

"If that's what he wants," Superman agreed easily. "See, Clark? Everything will work out fine…if you come talk to me."

"I'll listen," Clark conceded woodenly. He turned his head stiffly toward me, and the semblance of a smile that twisted his lips was so dark and un-Clark-like, so different from the one he had given me just a moment ago, that I couldn't help but flinch away. "Are you sure you know what groceries to get?" he asked. The effort it took to imbue his voice with that teasing lilt was readily apparent, and yet the very fact that he was even trying in front of Superman was enough to reassure me that he really was on the road to recovery. "I am the one with cooking duties, remember."

"I'll manage," I said, rolling my eyes. "I have faith that you can come up with some kind of meal out of whatever I get."

"I hope you're right." His eyes caressed me one last time, and then he turned to face Superman. Without me right there beside him, with the tall superhero before him, he looked small and alone.

"Superman," I blurted, delaying the moment when Clark would leave, stalling for him even though I couldn't explain it even to myself. "I've been meaning to ask…you haven't given anyone a statement about where you've been or why you came back now. Would you be willing to give Clark and me the exclusive? We could tell it better than anyone else."

I was rewarded by both Clark's tiny, real smile and Superman's full attention, the force of his dark, vibrant eyes nearly staggering me.

"I wouldn't give it to anyone else," he promised me, and I felt as if the whole world exploded with color and promise. Superman stepped up behind Clark and placed his hands on his waist in preparation of their ascent. Clark didn't make a sound, his eyes dropping to his shoes, his hands clenched into fists. "Perhaps tomorrow?"

"Definitely," I said, perhaps a tad too eagerly. Guilt stabbed me as Clark winced when he and Superman began to slowly lift into the air. "But, Superman, please be careful. Clark doesn't like flying."

Two identical expressions of surprise were turned on me, one obscured by glasses, the other unveiled. Clark quickly looked away again while Superman tried to conceal the hint of a grin. "I promise to be careful," he said wryly.

And then he flew up and away, Clark held securely in his arms, and I was left alone on the street. For an instant, I was jealous of Clark, wishing that it was me Superman had asked aside, longing to be the one flying with him. But Clark needed this time, I firmly reminded myself. He needed to have his faith in Superman restored, needed to remind himself that the hero was his friend, needed to see for himself that Luthor had lied about the caped superhero.

And I needed to stock my kitchen.

Clark was right, naturally, infuriatingly, about my unfamiliarity with a lot of grocery items. Luckily, I remembered enough about the list the medic had given me to collect a reasonable amount of ingredients for meals Clark should be eating. At least, that was my sincere hope. The whole ordeal only took me a little over half an hour, so I was able to get back to the apartment fairly quickly.

My intention was to get back to work, but I found that it was now so hard to piece everything together. Something had changed in the past hour, something that had taken away the ease with which the facts had flowed through my hands earlier.


He wasn't there, and suddenly investigating wasn't so fun. Suddenly I was remembering the long months when he had been gone and I had struggled just to write the ordinary stories, let alone the Kerth-worthy articles. The long months when I had lived for the phone calls and postcards I pretended to only tolerate.

I was glad for the excuse to stop working when the phone rang. When Henderson's voice snapped in my ear, however, I was tempted to revise that opinion.

"What do you and Kent think you're doing?" the inspector growled. "Do either of you have any inkling what the words 'low-key' mean? I shouldn't be getting calls from my officers saying you've been gallivanting all across the city!"

"Gallivanting all across the city?" I repeated sarcastically. "Yesterday, we went to Centennial Park—which is six blocks away—and we took a walk down two streets this afternoon. I hardly think that's setting up a huge neon sign announcing our presence."

"It might as well be," Henderson snapped. "Luthor's got eyes everywhere—he owns over half the businesses in Metropolis in some way or another! I expected this from you, Lane, but I thought Kent was smarter than that."

Frost edged my tone. "Clark's the one who wanted to go out, Henderson. He's been confined for a month—I didn't think I was supposed to exchange his old cell for my apartment. Should I get the living room fitted for some chains?"

"Don't get hysterical, Lane," Henderson commented, and I could swear he was smiling. "I didn't say anything after your first midnight trip because I knew you were with Superman, but it's not a good idea for you both to be parading yourself around, particularly Kent. We still don't know what exactly Luthor wanted from him, and it's a safe bet that Luthor will try to take your partner out before letting him testify. So, all I'm saying is—be careful."

"Do you know how many times I've heard that?" I exclaimed, throwing up a hand in frustration. "Does everyone think I run out and jump in front of every gun I see? I can—"

"Lois." The seriousness of Henderson's tone and the fact that he used my first name bought my immediate silence. "I'm not doubting that you can take care of yourself. If you couldn't, you'd have been dead a hundred times over by now."

"Wow, thanks," I began to say, but he interrupted me again.

"But Clark isn't so lucky."

I froze, the phone clutched tightly in my white-knuckled hand.

"My medic might not have gotten a really good look at him, but in his professional opinion, Clark doesn't look too good. He's still weak and suffering who-knows-what from coming off whatever Luthor was feeding him—and that's without the trauma of being kept in a hole for a month. So, this isn't about you—it's about your partner. Superman gave me his word he'd keep a close eye on him, but that won't do a lot of good if you drag him with you on one of your wild goose chases."

"Those 'wild goose chases' usually end up solving a couple of your cases," I observed acerbically before relenting. "But…I see what you mean. I'll be careful. Clark's with Superman now, so…you don't have to worry."

"Thanks, Lane." Henderson paused, and I had the impression that he had more to say, but he just sighed. "All right. Keep working."

"And have a good day yourself," I muttered when the dial tone sounded in my ear.

Somewhat chastened—and hating that feeling—I returned to my research, but I didn't get very far. I kept glancing in between the door and the windows, looking for Clark. By the time two hours had passed, I was about ready to hire a helicopter and go out looking for him and Superman. Where could they have gone? I had wholly agreed with the need for a conversation, but two hours? Seriously? And men complained about women talking for hours!

I had grabbed my jacket in preparation of going outside and then hung it up again about four times when I finally heard something in the hall outside. Ignoring the possibility that it was a neighbor returning home, I yanked the door open and stepped into the hallway, then froze when I caught sight of Clark sitting on the floor, propped up against the wall, his head cradled in his hands.

"Clark?" His name fell from my lips without me having to consciously will it spoken.

He looked up, his hands dropping into his lap. "Lois." The smile he gave me was so faint it was practically invisible.

"Clark, what are you doing out here?" Cautiously, oddly afraid that he'd startle away like a frightened animal if I moved too quickly, I stepped closer to him and knelt at his side.


When he didn't add anything more, I arched my brows. "Can't you think inside the apartment?"

"Yeah." With none of the grace he had displayed just that morning, he rose to his feet. Maybe it was vertigo; he was still recovering from the flight and its effects on him. But much as I tried to convince myself that was the reason for his disconsolate air, I knew, with a sinking sensation, that the conversation with Superman hadn't miraculously solved everything.

"Did everything go all right?" I asked when I had shut the door safely behind us both and turned the locks.

"Uh…yeah. I guess." Clark sank into the chair beneath the window, heedless of the fact that clouds curtained the sun and captured the sunbeams before they could reach him. "Everything went just as he planned."

For once in my life, I was able to bottle up my curiosity. Whatever had happened, I was pretty certain that neither Clark nor Superman would readily tell me, and for some strange reason, I didn't want to have to coerce the information out of them. So, instead, I gestured toward the kitchen and said, "Well, it's closer to dinnertime than lunch now, but the cooking chores are still yours. If…" I hesitated, grasping for tact, then shrugged. "If you think you're up to it."

"Hey, fair's fair. If you got the groceries, I can certainly manage to cook." Clark came to his feet. "Uh, Lois?"

"Yeah, Clark?" I responded quietly.

"Would…would you mind helping me? Keeping me company?"

"Of course not." I pretended surprise. "You didn't think I was going to do all the investigative work while you lazed around in the kitchen, did you? But one warning, Kent." I held up a stern finger. "I will cut vegetables, set the table, and maybe even retrieve certain ingredients for you—but I will not be cooking anything. Got it?"

His expression was so tender, yet so grateful, that I had to swallow back a sudden lump. "Got it."

Clark was mostly quiet as he looked over what I had bought and decided on a meal, then set me to cutting up some vegetables for the stew he was making. I was afraid to say too much, knowing that if I started talking, I'd just end up babbling; when I did speak, I tried to keep it light, tried to hide how worried and curious and frustrated I was, tried to reassure him that he was safe.

Finally, when we were both setting the table, he began to relax a bit. He actually smiled at me—not nearly as beautiful as his earlier grin, but enough. A few moments later, as we waited an interminable amount of time for the stew to be done, he ventured a joke, and soon one might be tempted to believe that he was fine.

But I knew just how faulty that assumption would be, and I couldn't help remembering Henderson's warning about pretense coming from a trauma victim.

"You promise this doesn't taste like chicken noodle soup?" I asked dubiously when he spooned out my portion of stew. The smoke that rose from the milky surface carried a scent so delicious that I wasn't too worried about the taste. My stomach rumbled quietly; it was definitely dinnertime now.

"It's nothing like it," Clark insisted. "This is stew, Lois. It's completely different from soup."

"It looks very similar."

"Taste it," Clark dared me with the hint of a grin. "If you don't like it, you can take over the cooking chores."

"Oh, very nice," I retorted, unable to bite back my own smile. "I can already tell you that I love it."

"Uh-huh. You haven't tasted it yet." His eyes avidly watched me as I lifted a spoonful, blew on it, and then popped it in my mouth.

"Wow," I murmured after chewing and swallowing. "It's delicious, Clark," I said honestly. "Thank you."

He ducked his head and dipped his spoon into his own bowl. "It's my mom's recipe; all I did was follow it."

"Right, so simple," I said sarcastically.

"Not simple," he countered. "It takes attention, focus, and patience."

"If you brought out chocolate, you'd have my attention. If you mentioned an interesting lead for an article, I'd be totally focused. And if this were a stake-out with a front page article on the line, I could fake the patience. But for a meal…" I pulled a face. "Take-out's so much easier."

My lack of patience—and cooking skills—was totally worth the laugh that escaped Clark, bringing back the sparkle of amusement that Superman's appearance had banished. "That's why I'm cooking," he replied as he took a bite of the stew.

"Clark." I looked down at my bowl, spooning up a piece of potato. "This morning, why did you get so serious when I mentioned earning your keep? What did I say wrong?"

His expression flickered. "Nothing, Lois. You didn't say anything wrong."

I nodded. "Then why did you stop smiling?"

I had a feeling I already knew the answer, but I wanted him to say it aloud. The bit of research I had managed to get done while he was gone had been on the Internet, acquiring information on trauma victims and how to help them. One major component every single site had mentioned was making the victim talk about what had happened, refusing to allow them to isolate themselves and hide behind a façade.

Clark shrugged uncomfortably, his eyes tight. "Luthor…he said I…"

"What?" I asked gently. With my free hand, I reached out and curled my fingers over his."What did he say?"

"Why do you want to know?" He met my gaze without flinching, his hand slack beneath mine. "What good does it do to talk about it?"

"I want to know because it matters to you. And that means it matters to me. What did he say to you, Clark?"

He turned his hand and threaded his fingers through mine, staring at our intertwined hands as if they were more fascinating than Perry's poker games. "He said I didn't belong here. That I had to earn my keep. Buy my way into acceptance. He said I'd never…that I was an al—too different."

"He was wrong," I told him softly. I dropped my spoon and laid my hand on Clark's cheek in the same gesture he had made for me numerous times. "You do belong in Metropolis, Clark. Perry wouldn't have hired you if you weren't a great reporter. Jimmy wouldn't idolize you if you weren't a great person. The only thing different about you is that you're a good man through and through—that, I admit, isn't exactly normal."

"I know he's wrong." Clark closed his eyes. "But…the memory's there."

And he had a photographic memory, I realized with the beginnings of despair. What did I know about dealing with a trauma victim? Did I really think that a couple words from me could undo days of torture, pain, and verbal abuse? Or was I just kidding myself? Jumping in without caring that the water would swallow me whole and suck me under?

Clark reached up and placed his hand over mine, holding it against his cheek. His lips didn't curve up at all, but the way he looked at me…it was still a smile. "But memories of you are better. I'm already getting more than enough to use in place of memories of Luthor."

"Good," I managed to say. "Then let's finish eating."

The rest of the evening passed much as had the last one. We put on a movie that neither one of us really watched. I managed to get a bit more work done, though the next step was pretty much beginning to write the article, something we really weren't ready to do, not until we found more solid proof. Wherever Clark had hidden his own evidence must have been far away because Jimmy still wasn't back yet. I'd have to call Perry in the morning and ask him to get in touch with a few of my snitches, see if they couldn't dig up anything.

It had been a pretty unproductive day, as a whole, which never failed to make me feel even more tired than the exciting days that filled me with adrenaline. So, as soon as the credits to the movie started rolling, I stood up. "I'm heading to bed," I stated.

Clark had looked up the minute I moved, but now he looked down at his lap. "I'm going to stay up a while more."

I frowned. "You sure? You're not too tired?"

"No. I'm feeling much better." The assurance was made by rote and sounded it. Still, I couldn't force him to go to bed. "I want to write a few ideas down." As if to back his claim, he leaned forward and picked up a notepad and pencil from the coffee table.

"All right," I agreed reluctantly. "Good night, then."

"Good night, Lois." I felt his eyes on me as I walked toward the bedroom, but when I paused on the threshold to look back, he was scribbling something down on the notepad.

Readying for bed, crawling underneath the cool covers, and lying staring up at the obscured ceiling didn't get me any closer to sleep. It wasn't even thoughts about Superman keeping me awake this time; in fact, I had scarcely spared a thought for the superhero since Clark's return. Which made me feel slightly guilty, but not enough to distract me from worry over Clark.

I tossed and turned for twenty or thirty minutes before giving up and throwing the covers back. When I padded into the living room, I was surprised to find Clark still awake. He was staring into space, the notepad balanced on his knee and the pencil laid neatly down on the table.

"Come on, Clark." I reached out and took the notepad, setting it aside. Absently, I noticed that the top page was blank.

He looked up at me, seemingly recalling himself from somewhere far away. "Lois?"

"Come on," I said again. "You need some sleep, Clark."

"Clark." His smile was bleak. "That's who I am."

I sank to my knees beside him, my hand clenching spasmodically over his wrist. "Yes, you are." My own tone was dazed and numb. Trauma victims will, in rare occurrences, disassociate to such an extent that they find themselves losing hold of their own identity. The articles I had found on the Internet swam through my mind, causing ripples that upset all other thoughts in my head.

"I always wanted to be Clark." He swallowed painfully. "And now that's all I am."

"That's enough, Clark," I said slowly, meaning every word. What more could he be? How could he improve? He was everything he needed to be. Or he had been, anyway. I wasn't sure how much of that man Luthor had left me.

Clark's smile turned softer, warmer, more hopeful. The sensation of his fingers feathering across my cheek was all that kept me from weeping in grief. I couldn't cry, I instructed myself sternly. If I wept for Clark, it'd be like admitting that the man he had once been was forever gone. And I wasn't ready to do that.

His thumb traced the edge of my jaw. "Lois, I…" His voice trailed off, but his

eyes finished the sentence for him. It was almost frightening to realize how much he needed me, how much he wanted from me—yet I never backed down from a challenge. And though I couldn't be everything to him that he desired, I could be a friend on whom he could rely, someone to connect him back to the life Luthor had tried to steal from him.

"Come on." I helped him stand and took his hand. As we turned toward the bedroom, I caught a glimpse of finely shredded notepaper in the wastebasket—paper filled with bits of Clark's handwriting.

"Lois?" Clark began to look toward where I was staring.

Hastily, I pulled him forward with a smile to distract him from my interest in his trash. "We haven't exchanged our secrets yet," I said quickly.

"Oh? Were we going to do that every night?"

Heartened by his banter even though I knew how transient the mood might be—Trauma victims will often exhibit abrupt, severe mood changes and emotional fluctuations—I grinned. "Well, if you have that many secrets."

He sobered. "Not anymore, Lois. Not anymore."

While he ducked into the bathroom to change, I straightened his bed. When he emerged and settled himself on the cot, I couldn't resist perching at his side for a moment, reluctant to leave him without at least a hint of hope.

"So, Clark, come on," I cajoled. "You must have one big secret."

"Actually, I do. A very important one." The lamp left us in a silken pool of light, but shadows lapped at my feet, emphasizing the serious intensity of Clark's gaze, though the glasses obscured the specifics of his expression.

"Well?" I prompted.

"Would you turn the TV on?"

I let out a disappointed sigh. So much for that conversation with Superman having any effect. A trauma victim may suffer extreme paranoia, living in a constant state of terror, panic, and edginess, projecting their fear onto other things or people, even those totally unconnected to their situation.

Determinedly, I shook the thought aside and, responding to the implacability of Clark's request, turned on the TV. I flipped through the channels twice, but there was no sign of Superman. When I looked back to Clark, though, I realized he was watching me instead of the television.

"What's your secret?" he asked softly. There was nothing of expectation in his manner, just a terrible patience that extended to more than one aspect of his life.

"Well." I hadn't really considered mine, but after hearing what Luthor had told Clark while he was in the cell, I knew there was one secret I should have told him a long time before. "My secret is…that I'm sorry, Clark, for stealing your story. And even though I said I didn't, I do like having you for a partner."

"Wow." The word was little more than an expelled breath. "I…I don't think you could have any other secrets better than that one."

I laughed, made a bit uncomfortable by the amount of sincerity in his voice. "You don't have much of an imagination, do you?"

Clark gave a half-shrug. "It'd be like reaching for the moon to dream for anything higher, Lois."

But his eyes never left mine. His hand cradled mine as if it were a treasure. And I knew: he did wish for more.

lot more.

Sirens dimly penetrated the silence that had enveloped us. Tearing my eyes from his unveiled heart, I looked to the TV. The sirens continued, but the local news didn't mention a Superman appearance.

"Lois." Clark tugged my hand and reached up to pull my head down near his lips.

I tensed with surprise, hating to reject him, suddenly terrified that this moment would ruin our friendship and destroy our partnership. But instead of trying to kiss me, he put his lips near my ear and whispered: "My secret, Lois—you remember how Trask said there was a meteorite called Kryptonite that could kill Superman?"

I gave a tiny nod, his hand still buried in my hair. "I named it."

His lips quirked. "I think I named it. But regardless…it's real."

"What?" I pulled back in shock, then had to lean near once more to hear his next words.

"I know firsthand, Lois; I was there. It takes Superman's powers away. It hurts him. It…it can kill him."

"No," I whispered in useless, desperate denial, my thoughts dazed and numb. "Superman is invulnerable."

Clark's eyes bored into mine; he enunciated each word separately. "It makes Superman ordinary, Lois. It makes him—just—like—me. It's a stone that glows green. And Luthor has it."

My skin turned cold as goose-bumps sprang into existence on my arms. Clark, I thought through my panicked horror. Clark needed me to be strong, to reassure him. "It's all right," I told him, my voice growing stronger as I contained my terror. "We're taking Luthor down anyway. We'll find the Kryptonite and hide it—destroy it. We won't let Luthor hurt Superman again."

"Thank you." Relief and gratitude suffused Clark's expression. And I knew—this was my sign of hope, my proof that he would be all right. Despite whatever he might hold against Superman, Clark was still worried for his safety, still looking out for him, still putting everyone else's needs above his own. He was, despite all the damage, still Clark.

It was not the first time I had had the realization, but I welcomed it nonetheless.

With the secret now given to me for safekeeping, Clark seemed able to finally rest. His body relaxed, and within moments, he slept. I sat beside him the whole time, offering no excuse, just holding his hand and watching him. When I heard his breathing deepen, I pulled my hand free of his. "Clark?" I whispered. Only when he made no response did I rise to my feet and head purposely into the living room.

The wastebasket was filled with what looked to be three or four pages filled with whatever Clark had written on them. They were shredded into several hundred tiny strips, yet the scope of the task before me didn't faze me. I had followed harder trails for front-page stories and this was so much more important than any mere article.

I dumped the contents of the wastebasket on the kitchen island and started separating out the strips. Even after I had gotten rid of everything that didn't have Clark's handwriting on it, I still had a formidable pile of what might as well be puzzle pieces. In more ways than one—I needed the key to unlock the things Clark told me. One piece of information, I was convinced, and surely everything he did and said would make sense. It had to. I refused to believe that Luthor had been able to destroy Clark Kent. My partner was much too stubborn to be defeated so easily.

It took me three hours of back-breaking, eye-watering, extremely frustrating work, but finally I had two and a half pieces of paper taped back together.

And after I read them, I hid what had turned out to be a letter, and I crawled into bed and huddled beneath all the blankets and still shivered with bone-deep, mind-numbing cold.

And the darkness engulfed me.

And Then There Was Light

A Lois & Clark Story
by Anti-Kryptonite

Part 10 of 23

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