Continuing Tales

And Then There Was Light

A Lois & Clark Story
by Anti-Kryptonite

Part 15 of 23

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I was tired of playing games. That was the thought I woke up with, and it only rooted itself more deeply as I showered—wincing away from the hot water pouring over tender bruises, sore muscles, and the gunshot wound—and dressed. Clark already had breakfast ready when I left the bedroom, but my own wakening hunger couldn't distract me from the sudden impulsive plan that had brashly leapt into my mind.

"Can I look at your wound first?" Clark asked, pulling the chair out for me. "I can clean and bandage it for you."

"I already cleaned it," I told him, ignoring my slight shiver when his hands brushed across my skin as he rolled up my sleeve. "The bandage proved a bit more painful, though."

Clark, I decided quickly, could have been a doctor. His hands were far gentler than the medic's and seemed to possess a healing power all their own. It took him hardly a moment to gingerly bandage the wound and pull my sleeve back down.

"Thanks," I said after swallowing heavily.

"Sure." His eyes were tight as he sat down. He had shaved, but a few nicks on his cheeks testified to the fact that he still wasn't quite back to normal.

"This looks delicious," I observed, looking down at the plate already set out for me, filled with some sort of blueberry casserole.

He shrugged self-consciously. "I was up a bit early, and cooking always relaxes me."

I was silent at this reminder of his nightmares, unsure what to say to heal him of Luthor's lingering effects.

We spoke little as we ate, but both of us seemed content with the companionable quiet. I don't know what Clark was thinking, but for my part, I was formulating my plan.

"Clark," I began authoritatively a few moments later, setting down the crust of toast on my otherwise empty plate. "I think I'm going to go out for a while, okay?"

He didn't respond, and I was already rising from my chair and heading for the closet to grab a coat. The one I had worn the day before was currently puddled at the bottom of my bathroom wastebasket, stained with blood and bad memories.

"Is there anything I can do to help you?"

I turned, Clark's quiet question infusing a minute's worth of patience into my purposeful edginess. He was standing near the table, his hands hanging empty by his side, his eyes locked on me. As I stared at him, one of his hands raised nervously to his face to adjust his glasses.

"Just wait here for Perry to call with Bender's location," I finally settled for saying. There was no way to explain that he confused me. That his mere presence unsettled me because it had, in the past several days, taken to leaving me with some of the same feelings I had before felt only around Superman. That the knowledge of his love for me sat like a large, extremely awkward elephant in whatever room we were in. That his paranoia and frustrating hints concerning Superman were driving me to distraction.

No, I decided. Better just to say nothing and work it out on my own. He wanted me to test Superman—fine, I'd test Superman. And whatever the outcome, I'd be ready to face it.

That was easier planned than accomplished, however. The last time I'd tried this particular stunt, Superman had arrived after I had spoken his name only twice. This time, I had walked five blocks and called his name several times—receiving some very strange looks from passersby—and still he hadn't showed up. I was beginning to think that maybe this plan had been as ill thought out as some of my others and had just turned to head back to the apartment when I thought I heard the familiar rush of air that always accompanied his arrivals and departures.

"Superman?" I turned to look in the direction of the elusive sound, my face taking on a hopeful look of its own accord.

There was no one there.

Trying not to feel like an idiot, I grimaced and began walking back toward my apartment. Maybe trying to find Superman so I could ask him Clark's questions and reassure myself that he was the same superhero he had always been had been a silly plan, absurd in its simplicity. Then again, simplicity was something I was craving at the moment. Things had been complicated ever since Clark and Superman had left Metropolis—far too complicated—and I was more than ready to go back to the way things had been before. If that was even possible.


My heart jumped to my throat as I whirled to find Superman descending from the frosted skies. His expression was mildly curious, the beginnings of a smile lightening his features, his cape flared out behind him so that he seemed like some kind of benevolent angel.

"Superman," I greeted him, and inwardly winced to hear that habitual breathiness lighten my tone. The effect he had on me was ridiculous, I told myself sternly. It was far past time that I got over a little bit of the awe his presence always engendered. Of course, that would be easier if he wasn't still floating a good foot or two off the ground.

"Did you want to see me?"

"Yes," I said, gratified when I managed to sound at least partially professional. "I need to talk to you about something."

He quirked an eyebrow. "The investigation?"

"Well, not exactly. Unless you've found something new?" I couldn't help the hope that leapt to fiery being within my chest. It would be so much easier to simplify things if Luthor was out of the way.

"Not yet," he replied with a slow shake of his head. "Shall we fly?"

"No!" I took a step away from him in an effort to escape the temptation. I needed to ask him several serious questions, and flying would only throw me off-balance.

Superman's eyes narrowed before he glanced around at the people staring at us as they walked by. "This isn't exactly inconspicuous, Lois. Word of it could very easily get back to Luthor."

"Oh." I blushed and looked down at my feet. "Right. Okay. Then…sure. Let's go someplace else."

But, I sincerely hoped, not to a fixed point in the midst of the skies. I'd never be able to get this interview done while hanging among opal clouds in a sapphire sky with Superman's arms wrapped around my body.

All thought temporarily abandoned me when Superman swept me close to his chest and ascended toward the sun, my purposeful plans left behind on the ground, too heavy to survive the ether. My heart rattled irrationally inside me, made even faster by the thought that Clark had said Superman could easily hear heartbeats. The wind cradled my form and whipped at my hair, as if trying to separate me from Superman, though the strength of his hold made that impossible.

"I changed my mind," I whispered as I stared around me and below at my city, falling away like the reflection in a lake.

"About what?" Superman's voice rumbled through his chest and sent shivers pulsing through my body.

Despite my scattered plans and Clark's suspicions, I couldn't help laughing in the face of conquered gravity. "Once, I asked Clark if he'd rather be invisible or fly. He chose flying, but I said I'd rather be invisible." I paused to take in the whole of the surroundings enveloping me in a cold, silken atmosphere. "But I changed my mind. Flying is infinitely better."

"Yes." His own grin was that strangely childlike one he had displayed only once or twice before. "I like flying. Almost as much as I like you."

My stomach dropped away to join my thoughts and plans, discarded on the ground and left to languish in the heavy gravity. I could not look away from Superman, as if I thought that if I gazed at him long enough, I'd be able to peel away all his complexities to reveal the man beneath.

"Here." Superman pointed toward some landmark with his chin. "This should do."

I had not been watching the earth beneath us, so I had lost track of where we were, but it was obvious we weren't in Metropolis anymore. We landed on the slope of a hill layered with crystalline snow and peppered with the last leaves that had survived the autumn's rain of greenery. In the distance, I could see another mountain rising to stroke the bellies of clouds and descending toward a valley that might have led to the coast—and Metropolis.

In only minutes, we had traveled a long way from my city. Awe threatened to rise again, but I throttled it back. Though I had to turn my back on Superman to achieve it, I forced myself to remember everything I had left behind for such a short time. Clark needed closure, I needed simplicity, Superman needed friends—the best way to accomplish all three of those was directness.

"Superman, do you have a Fortress of Solitude?" I held my breath after voicing the question, surprised by my own bluntness.

"Yes. I told you I needed a safe place to rest, recover, and recharge. The Fortress of Solitude gives me all those things."

Emboldened by his straight answer, I turned back to face him. "And where is it?"

His eyes narrowed, as if confused by the question. "This shouldn't be public knowledge, you understand, but…it's in the North Pole."

A triumphant grin threatened to peek out from behind my professional mask, but I shooed it away. "Clark told me that he found a globe from your spaceship. He said it turned into a map of your world."

"Yes." Superman nodded. "Krypton is a red and blue planet with large land-masses."

Tension drained from my body, so much of it that I was surprised I couldn't see it shivering in a puddle at my feet. My shoulders slumped a bit as I gingerly sat on a fallen log. I was shivering, but from relieved anxiety, excitement, or the temperature, I wasn't sure.

"Here." Superman gazed at me and the log very intently and ripples of warmth spread out from his eyes, enveloping me in heat and causing steam to rise from the wood beneath me. A delighted smile sprang to my lips, and this time, I didn't fight it. Clark might not believe me when I told him, but at least I knew Superman had passed the test.

"Thank you," I murmured, moving over a bit to give him room to sit should he choose to do so.

"Lois." Superman settled himself beside me, his proximity almost as heated as his gaze. "Why did you ask me these things?"

"Clark doesn't trust you," I told him gently. "I think he might blame you a bit—for not being there for him. Superman, I can tell that something happened between you two, something that meant you weren't there when he was captured. What did you two fight about?"

"Fight?" Superman repeated, his voice blanked of any emotion. He stared out at the landscape before us, and I wondered what view he saw. "What makes you think we fought?"

I rolled my eyes. "Come on. Neither one of you can be in the same room without throwing off enough electricity to light up half the city! You never seem to know what to say to him, and Clark is either angry or depressed every time he talks to you. Obviously, some kind of argument made him go back to Smallville while you continued wandering the world."

"There was no argument," Superman said slowly. "I went to my Fortress because Clark wanted to visit his parents. I even dropped him off there. That was before…before his captivity." He took a deep breath and straightened, as if bracing himself for whatever my reaction might be. "Lois, Clark never distrusted me before. He never grew angry at me. He never avoided me. In fact, he always accepted me, always treated me as if we were, as you say, friends. But since Luthor, he's…changed. He's broken, Lois. There's nothing left of the old Clark in him."

I was on my feet, I realized belatedly, backing away through the trampled snow. "You're wrong," I said numbly. "He hasn't changed. I mean, sure there are a few differences, but underneath it all, he's still the same person."

Superman's eyes were immeasurably sad. He clearly already mourned Clark, already thought him gone, had already consigned him to the past. "Think about it, Lois. He was held for a month by a madman who stopped at nothing in order to toy with him and crossed every line possible in order to twist his mind. He was tortured daily and subjected to Luthor's seductive, poisonous words while all his power was stolen from him. He was trapped in the darkness with no rejuvenating light to break the monotonous torment. He was alone with only the voice of Luthor as his companion and fading memories that weakened more with each passing day. After all that, do you really think he could just slide back into normal life as if nothing happened?"

"Stop," I commanded him uselessly, holding up a hand before me to ward off the sentences spoken so bluntly, so solemnly, so inescapably.

"He was brainwashed, Lois—brainwashed to hate and distrust me…and to do who knows what else. For all we know, he might still be carrying out Luthor's ends. Clark's only a puppet now, filled with darkness and driven by powerlessness, all at Luthor's command. His treatment of me is only a sign of what else is hidden within him. I'm sorry, Lois, but the man you knew—the man who was your partner…he's dead."

My panic fled even as I planted my feet, my jaw firming, arms crossed over my chest. "No. You're wrong, Superman. Clark is still very much the same man he's always been. I mean, sure, he can be a little weird, and sometimes he says odd things and does strange things—but when it comes down to it, Clark is the strongest man I know. He's not…he's still…"

I shook my head. The words—there were none suitable, none that could possibly encapsulate all that Clark was. It was an impossible task, and yet I tried anyway, spurred on by Superman's obvious lack of understanding. "You mentioned all the things that have been done to him, but that dark cell couldn't change him—Luthor couldn't change him—because he's stronger than all of that." I paced back and forth, frustrated by how little this verbal explanation conveyed. "He has…something…some inner strength, some kind of quiet heroism. You should know that, Superman—you're his friend! Clark is…well, he's just untouchable. Luthor can't hold a candle to him! Everything he does to Clark is like water running off a duck's back—maybe it leaves an impression, but it doesn't last."

"I admit that I've taken a lot from Clark," Superman began slowly, reaching out to take my hand, "as you obviously have. Yet in the end, much as you might dislike it, Clark is an ordinary man."

"No." Again, I found myself contradicting Superman, tugging my hand free of his momentarily insistent grip. It struck me as ironic that I had to defend each of these men before the other. "Clark is one of those rarest of souls, Superman. He's one of the very few people who is extraordinary—not because of anything he does—but simply because of who he is."

And, I admitted to myself as I fell still, it was one of the greatest achievements in my life that I could count him as my best friend. How could Superman not think the same thing? How could he dismiss Clark so easily?

"I—" Superman suddenly grimaced, his head and shoulders bowing as if under a great weight, though I could not imagine a weight large enough to stagger the superhero. His mouth tightened and his eyes squeezed shut, his hands moving toward his face.

"Superman!" I stared at him dumbly, shock turning me into a statue. "Are you all right?"

Slowly, he turned his head to look at me, his hands falling back to his sides. Even more slowly, he straightened with a shake of his head as if to shrug off that invisible burden. "I…I just got distracted."

"Oh." I glanced around at our surroundings. Courtesy, common sense, and compassion all demanded that I instantly tell Superman to go deal with whatever crisis—large enough to affect him so violently—was occurring, but I didn't exactly relish being abandoned in the middle of a frozen wilderness.

"I'll take you back," Superman offered before I could tell him to leave me.

We didn't dawdle on the way home, that was for sure. It had taken ten minutes before—a very long flight for Superman—yet this trip lasted less than a full minute.

Superman seemed to have lost a portion of his urgency as he set me down on the street outside my apartment, so I risked delaying him with a hesitant smile. "Thanks for coming," I told him. "And for answering my questions. Maybe one day I'll get to see this Fortress of yours."

Superman stiffened. "Actually…it's a very private place among Kryptonians. A place of solitary reverence."

"Oh." I flushed. "I'm sorry."

"It's forgiven." Superman reached out a gentle hand. Despite my fading irritation with his dismissal of Clark, I closed my eyes in anticipation of feeling him cup my cheek, then snapped them open in disoriented surprise when he set his hand on my shoulder instead. "Goodbye, Lois."

And he was gone.

Without a doubt, Clark knew I had gone to meet with Superman, but I still wanted to do something to lessen the blow when I returned. It had occurred to me with this morning's newfound purposefulness that the reason Clark hadn't been eating much might have had to do with the choice in foods. He was a great cook, but I well remembered what he had stocked his cupboards and fridge with. So, taking a quick detour, I picked up a couple bags of cookies, pastries, pies, Twinkies, and another box of tea.

When I entered the apartment, laden down with the groceries, Clark straightened from zipping up the duffel bag Perry had brought him. He stepped forward and took the bags from me with a raised eyebrow. "More groceries?" he asked. "I don't need to eat that badly, Lois."

"Ha, ha," I said, shrugging off my coat. "I picked those up for you. I thought you might be ready for a change."

He peeked into the bags and warmed me with his immediate grin. "Are you trying to fatten me up?"

"Just a little," I admitted. "Besides, it might be nice to have something to munch on if we have a long stakeout ahead of us."

"Oh, Perry called." Clark hefted the paper bags and took them toward the kitchen as I trailed along after him. "He said Bender is at the marina, staying on his yacht. Fortunately for us, Perry has a friend who owns a place on the docks. During his lunch hour, he'll bring over the equipment we need, as well as the directions and key to this place."

"Great!" I exclaimed. "I just hope we haven't missed the meeting already."

"Even if we did, Bender might still give something away," Clark said with his customary optimism. It seemed only the slightest bit forced. "I made us an early lunch, though, so we'll be ready when Perry gets here. And I called Henderson to let him know what was going on."

"Always prepared," I teased, unable to understand how Superman could so cavalierly claim that Clark—my partner and friend, this man who smiled so engagingly at me—could be some brainwashed tool of Luthor's. "You must have been the Boy Scouts' prize student."

"Would it surprise you if I told you I was an Eagle Scout?" he asked.

"Nope." I laughed and sat down to lunch.

We were both packed for an overnight stay and were ready to go when Perry came by with the camera and recording equipment. He helped us load it all into the back of a taxi—we were leaving my Jeep behind to allay immediate suspicion—then gave us the name of Bender's yacht and wished us luck.

I wrinkled my nose a bit at the dust stirred up when we entered the small dockside hideaway. It obviously hadn't been used for a while. Still, a bit of exploring revealed that, aside from the dust, it wasn't in too bad a shape. The bedroom was musty, but clean linens in a closet made the bed passable; the living room was a bit dark, but sunlight cascaded through the window facing the yachts, which was enough to satisfy Clark.

We set up everything quickly, adjusting the equipment with the ease of long practice. Bender's yacht was in direct line of sight of the window, something I hadn't even dared hope for. And cracking the window open dispersed the dust and the musty scent, leaving the interior feeling fresh and smelling clean. Once again, Clark's mere presence seemed able to make any situation turn out better that it would have otherwise.

By the time everything was situated and we had surveyed the area around our temporary home so we knew how to get around in a hurry, it was getting dark. The winter nights came early, but I wished the sunlight could last a while longer for Clark's sake.

"How about some dinner?" I asked when the sun dipped below the sail-tipped water outside. "My treat."

"Your treat?" Clark repeated with a smirk. "This I can't pass up."

"Watch it, Kent," I warned him playfully. "I can dial takeout places better than anyone else."

"I don't doubt it," he promised solemnly.

I couldn't quite explain why, but we were both much more relaxed than we had been at my apartment. Maybe we had been getting a little stir-crazy; maybe it was the fact that we were on a stakeout again, together; maybe it was the knowledge that we were finally doing something proactive to take down Luthor; maybe it was a combination of all of these or something else entirely. Whatever it was, I couldn't deny that I felt a bit giddy, almost dazed with a sense of freedom. Judging from the sparkle in Clark's bespectacled eyes, I wasn't the only one.

Since I was actually hungry—I hadn't eaten much at lunch—I chose a takeout place near us, a Chinese restaurant called Ralph's Pagoda. Still, I dug out a couple snacks for us to munch on while we waited for the food to arrive. When it came, I paid the delivery-boy and carried the cartons to the table in front of the couch.

"I haven't had Chinese in ages," Clark said casually, but he took only one bite before making a face. "This is awful."

I tentatively tried a bit, then frowned at him and took another bite. "I don't taste anything different about it. Not as good as some other places I know, but—"

Clark shook his head and wrinkled his nose on his second, smaller bite. "I don't think we should eat this, Lois. It tastes rancid."

I wasn't really convinced, but the last thing Clark needed was to get food poisoning on top of everything else. Besides, the Twinkie I had eaten had taken the edge off my hunger. So, with a shrug, I set my own carton next to his. "Fine, but are you sure you just don't want to admit that I can make a good meal too?"

"You didn't make the meal," he contradicted, scooping up the cartons and dumping them in the trash, as if afraid I would eat some when he wasn't looking. "But if you're still hungry, we can order something else."

"Nah." I gestured toward the snacks we had brought. "We've got plenty of junk food if I get too desperate."

"Are you sure?" He seemed as worried about me as I should have been about him.

"Yes. So." I scooted farther back into the voluminous couch and pulled a knee up to my chest, facing Clark as he retook his own seat at the opposite end. "When you left the Daily Planet, you said you were going to become the editor of the Smallville Post." I purposely emphasized the last word.

He raised his eyebrows. "You remembered the name?"

"Well." I chuckled, pushing back a strand of hair. "Someone edited my copy."

He laughed, a sound that made me stare at him, something uncoiling in the pit of my stomach. "Only when it needed it."

I shrugged off the strange feeling and gave him a warning look but let his comment go since I didn't want to be distracted from my topic. I had tested Superman, and now…well, I wasn't testing Clark, but I wanted some answers from him. "So, why didn't you go to Smallville?"

Suddenly unable to look me in the eye, Clark shrugged uncomfortably. Then, as if coming to some inward decision, he met my gaze. "I couldn't stay in one place, Lois. I…I had to move around—or I thought I did anyway. It was…" Again, he looked away, this time staring intently out the window, clearly tense.

I didn't want to pressure him, not when I was trying so hard to be the kind of friend he had always been to me. Not when Superman's cold words still had the power to suck the warmth from my flesh. So I smiled as I said, "So, where did you go? I mean…" I swallowed painfully before admitting, "I got your postcards and your calls, but…I wasn't really listening to you then."

Hesitantly, Clark reached out a hand to briefly touch mine. "It's okay, Lois. I understand. I left you even after I promised you I wouldn't."

Hearing him voice my complaint made me realize how childish—almost petty—it was. "You're your own man, Clark. It's not like you owed me anything. You didn't have any ties to me."

His gaze was frighteningly direct, astonishingly powerful. "Do you really believe that?"

No, I didn't. Especially not after reading his letter. After realizing just how much he cared for me. But I wasn't ready to acknowledge that elephant, so I looked away. The dim glow from the lamp beside us left us in a pocket of void all our own, just as we had been in the cell—only this time, it was a space defined by light instead of darkness.

"Anyway…" I shrugged. "What were your favorite parts of your journey?"

"I didn't want to leave," he assured me as if he hadn't heard my question.

"I know you didn't," I told him honestly, my voice as hushed as his. "And I know you had important reasons for going. And I don't blame you. Anymore," I added for the sake of honesty, lessening its sting with a tentative smile. "Besides, Clark, you can't always put someone else's happiness above your own."

"Why not?" His question, combined with the blatant heat in his eyes, was enough to take me aback.

I blinked. "Because if you're always making others happy at a personal cost, you're not going to be happy yourself. And it's hard to make others happy when you're missing something inside."

"It's not impossible," he insisted stubbornly.

"No," I was forced to concede. "But it is hard. And it's easier—more fulfilling—when you're happy yourself. Believe me, Clark, I know."

He opened his mouth as if to reply, then seemed to think better of it and looked away.

"So," I said yet again. "Even if leaving wasn't your first choice, you must have enjoyed some part of your travels. Come on." I patted him on the chest. "Give me the highlights. I'm listening now."

"Well," he began, shifting to more fully face me, his knee brushing against mine. "I did enjoy Ireland. You mentioned once that you had been there before?"

"Yes, I was part of an exchange student program," I answered, wondering at how skillfully he continued to turn the conversation back to me. It was something he had done from the beginning of our partnership. I had assumed it was because he genuinely wanted to know my answers. Now, while I was sure that was part of it, I realized that it was also a good form of evasion. He was able to turn questions back on me so that I ended up forgetting he hadn't answered them himself.

"And?" Clark prompted, his expression open and earnest. "Did you like it?"

"I developed a crush on a boy there," I said with an embarrassed grimace. "He was older and didn't really think much of me, so that kind of colored the rest of my time there. But, yes, I did enjoy it. You?"

"I did," he said with a warm smile that almost distracted me from the fact that he continued to say "I" instead of "we." Hadn't Superman been with him? "I stayed in a very small town called Gray Stone. They had a mountain there." He paused, then grinned with the charm I was slowly realizing he had always possessed—even beaten and drugged in a pitch-black cell. "It was actually a hill that I walked over in about an hour. It was a beautiful path, hedged on one side with bushes that produced very tasty berries and on the other by a steep, eroding drop-off that led straight to the sea. I walked to the 'big' city, Bre, and shopped at some small local stores. The bookstore sold mostly Gaelic books; the owner was very happy to learn that I could read it. He had a son who had opened a bookstore in Kansas City, which is interesting because when I was in Taiwan, there was an older woman who…"

I couldn't stop staring at Clark as his poetic, empathetic words washed over me. He had a way of describing places that made me able to picture them effortlessly, and no matter what country he described, the main focus of his stories was always the people he met. People he invariably liked; people he had taken the time to get to know; people he remembered.

I had initially pegged Clark as a barely literate farmboy, naïve, gullible, and unsophisticated. And yet, gradually, I had come to understand just how well-traveled Clark was, how intelligent, how…not worldly, but certainly a man who had seen the world and yet knew there was still more to see. He was naïve because he chose to be, innocent rather than gullible because he didn't want to linger on the bad things in life, and vastly more sophisticated than I could have believed upon our first introduction.

Superman had claimed that Clark was nothing more than the shell of a man, a brainwashed husk occupying the body of the man who had been my partner. But there was nothing mindless about the man sitting so near to me that I could feel the warmth of his body-heat, nothing empty about the smoky voice welling up over me to lap at my soul with beautiful words, nothing broken about the light in his eyes and the emotion in his smile and the poetry of motion in the hand gestures accompanying his stories.

And as I watched Clark, I suddenly realized that I was unabashedly staring at him, seeing him in an entirely new light. I was—as amazing as it seemed—star-struck.

Once, when my fascination with Superman had been at its height and he had just revealed that he came from a far-away planet, I had amused myself with a wordplay I still remembered. I had described myself as star-struck—struck by this man from the stars whose own star had, inexplicably, sent him across the galaxies to me.

But Clark…Clark was an ordinary man, normal and dependable and staid. Or so I had thought. What, I asked myself now, was ordinary about Clark? What other man had I ever met who was so trustworthy and steady and honest…and so wholly in love with me?

Clark might not have been sent from the stars, but he had given me those stars. He had punctured the darkness of my life with tiny pinpricks of light that never failed or wavered in their courses. He had brightened my world as if he were the moon—no, I corrected myself. Not the moon. Clark was the sun, bright and vivid and fixed and never to be outshone by another. Others might look at him and see only a single glowing star, but I was close to him now—close enough to realize that what to one person was a star was to another the brilliance of an anchoring sun.

Such romantic thoughts, I scoffed at myself, suitable for the melodramatic romance novel I had only admitted I was writing to one person. And yet…I could not tear my eyes from Clark and the love burning in his own eyes as he looked back at me.

Superman took me flying…but Clark made me feel as if I could fly.

Superman gave me the world…but Clark could very easily be my world.

Superman saved my life…but Clark made me believe that my life was more precious and valuable and important than anyone else's.

I loved Superman…but Clark loved me.

The thoughts—so traitorous to the undying love I had silently sworn to Superman—made me waver. I put a hand to my head, convinced I was burning up from such close proximity to Clark.

"Are you all right?"

His concern only prompted more thoughts in the same elaborate vein, and I felt disoriented, thrown off balance by the shaky feeling undermining everything I thought and felt and believed. Only when his hands on my arms steadied me did I realize that I had closed my eyes for a moment.

"I think I might have a slight case of food poisoning after all," I said weakly. A ridiculous excuse considering the fact that I had only eaten a couple bites of the food.

But Clark didn't seem to notice the gaping hole in my logic. "I'll get you a glass of water," he promised and was gone before I could tell him that I didn't want to quench the fever currently raging within me.

He was back an instant later, kneeling before me, steadying me with one hand and using the other to hand me a cup of cold water. I took a drink, closing my eyes against the revelations swirling through my head, the coil untangling itself to tickle the insides of my stomach, the sight of his concerned, tender eyes boring into me.

"Thank you," I managed to say.

Without a word, he set the cup on the table, then moved a pillow behind me, his hand on my back guiding me into a lying position. "You've taken such good care of me," he whispered as he adjusted another pillow to make me more comfortable. He set a warm hand on my stomach and began to rub it gently. If I had really had a stomachache, I was sure I would have been healed immediately. "The least I can do is try to return the favor."

"You know, Clark," I murmured quietly, afraid to even move lest the sudden mood be broken or I wake to find we were still in that cell. "Sometimes, it seems like I don't even know you. You're always surprising me."

A shadow might have passed across his features, or maybe it was only the dim lighting. "Well, we all have masks. Isn't that what you told me when we were investigating the invisible man? We all like to meet expectations."

"Whose expectations do you try to meet?" I asked curiously. Clark was one of the most quietly confident people I had ever met; he had never seemed to worry about what our co-workers thought of him.

"Well," he said, his voice a bit dry. "My parents' expectations. I want them to be proud of me."

"I'll bet they are." I smiled up at him. "The boy scout without a flaw."

"And yours," he continued, the two words spoken with breathtaking meaning.

"Mine?" I considered it quite an accomplishment that I was able to get the single syllable out past the sudden earthquake in my soul. His hand on my stomach was as hot as a brand, and yet it was a warmth I craved even more of.

"Well, I try anyway." He gave the hint of a lopsided grin. "You set a high standard."

I paused but could not hold back my next question. "And are you wearing a mask now?"

He met my gaze without any hesitation. "No. The mask always has to come off sooner or later. Although," he added, withdrawing his hand as if I had burned him, "most people only show their true selves when they're passionate about something. Like when they're angry and fighting."

"Or when they're in a life-and-death situation." As if we were magnetized, my hand was drawn to his cheek. "Do you know, Clark, that even when you're asleep, you smile if you hear me speak or feel my touch? You can't fake that. And you risked your life for me—another thing that's hard to fake. But then…you're lousy at pretending or wearing masks."

"But I do," he whispered urgently. "I do wear a mask."

I cocked my head slightly, my thumb tracing a pattern over his skin. "More of those expectations you have to meet?"

He blinked, clearly surprised, as if he had expected me to retreat at his confession. "Yes."

"You know…don't like meeting expectations."

"You don't?" For a change, he seemed to be the one repeating my words, his own voice no stronger than mine.

"No. I like to exceed them."

And before I even realized what I meant to do, I raised myself up and brushed my lips over his. The contact was fleeting, ghost-like, ephemeral…hypnotizing, entrancing, utterly compelling.

I slid my hand from his cheek to meet my other behind his neck and play through his hair, felt his arm slip around my spine to support my weight, his hand cupping my neck as his thumb sparked tiny lightning bolts along the edge of my jaw.

And then he moved his mouth back to mine, and thought was obliterated. I was no longer able to catalogue a specific touch or movement; all I knew was that I felt as if I had come home, as if I belonged there, as if warmth and light and hope had all been personified in the form of Clark Kent.

A moment, a year, a century passed before we both pulled back at the same moment. Yet I could not move away completely, and he seemed possessed of the same thought, so we remained in our close embrace, our foreheads touching. Amazement and shock reeled through my system—a shock touched by fear and a tiny trace of guilt.

I had not even thought of Superman as I kissed Clark. Not once. Not at all.

Clark's fingers insinuated themselves even deeper into my hair, the touch of his skin on the back of my neck sending shivering tingles down my spine. His arm supported my weight as I leaned on him. And Superman was obviously the furthest thing from his mind.

"Lois, I love you," he murmured.

The sentiment had been so obvious, the look in his eyes so self-explanatory, the message his every touch conveyed so clear that at first the words barely registered. They were, after all, hardly a revelation.

But slowly they sank in. Slowly, they penetrated the fog encasing me in this tiny place and time. Slowly, they grew to dwarf everything else.

He was confessing his love—I was wondering what Superman would think.

"I know you do," I whispered. Tears pooled in my eyes, then fell when I closed them, savoring the feel of his tight, supporting embrace and his temples resting against mine and the softness of his hair beneath my fingers. Then I pulled back to look at him, pierced to the quick by the sight of the burning, radiant blaze of hope exploding from his entire being. "But you deserve so much better."

And I tore myself from his grip and ran to the bedroom and slammed the door shut on his stunned silence. Running from myself—running from him—running from the scarcity—the enormity—of Superman in my thoughts.

Clark knocked. He said my name. He apologized. He finally fell depressingly silent.

I sat on the bed, and wrapped my arms around my middle, and trembled in the shadowed cold.


As a disclaimer, I only visited Ireland once, and though I hope I remembered the correct spelling of the towns' names, I couldn't find my itinerary to verify. Hope I didn't offend any Irish readers!

And Then There Was Light

A Lois & Clark Story
by Anti-Kryptonite

Part 15 of 23

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