Continuing Tales

And Then There Was Light

A Lois & Clark Story
by Anti-Kryptonite

Part 17 of 23

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The cold had burrowed its way deep within me to lodge itself in my bones, turning them brittle enough to shatter should I make one wrong move. The only thing that kept me connected to my surroundings was the heated form at my side, the warm arm enfolding me, the sun-touched breath that whispered past me from time to time. Had Clark walked away, I was convinced that I would have lost what tiny measure of coherence I yet retained.

As it was, everything passed me in a blur that dimmed with every recollection, snatches of images or sensations less defined than the dreams that had been afflicting me.

I remembered uniformed men and women peppering the docks. I remembered someone insisting on looking at my wound, the pain of which had been turned mute with shock the instant I dove into frigid waters. I remembered convincing Clark with a single glare to let someone else bandage a gash on his temple and another on his right cheekbone just below his eye. I remembered the blankets they piled around us, the portable heater they set up in front of us, remembered the sun peeking shamefacedly from behind the dispelling clouds—remembered that none of those external forces were able to warm me half as much as Clark, who didn't seem nearly as affected by the cold as I was, perhaps protected from the full extent of the low temperatures by the emotions doubtlessly rioting within him at the sight of his tormentor's arrest.

I remembered Nigel's deadened eyes fixed on Clark and me as he was escorted away to the rhythm of Bender's panicked legal chatter.

And somewhere in the middle of all of that, Henderson showed up, his expression as stoic as if he regularly invaded the marina with what seemed to be half of the MPD.

Halfway expecting a lecture on the foolishness of my confrontation with Nigel—and already feeling bad enough about what came of it—I forestalled whatever he had to say by snapping, "What took you so long?"

His gaze was even. "It took us eight minutes to get here, Lane. And considering the location of this little get-together, that's not too bad."

"You should stay with Nigel," Clark interrupted, his tone urgent. "And keep several men with you at all times."

"Relax, Clark, I've got it covered." Henderson held up his hand in a conciliatory gesture, his tone much more compassionate than it was when he spoke to me. "You explained it all over the phone. Besides, after what happened the last time you two ran into St. John, we're covering all our bases. Still, as much as possible, we're also trying to keep it under the radar until we're sure we can get St. John to testify against this Boss. The last thing we need is for Luthor to run."

"No, we don't," I agreed, more vehemently than I had intended. Despite the chills wracking my body, I snaked a hand out from the blankets to wrap around Clark's waist. He tightened his own hold on me in response.

"Bill…" Clark paused with a glance toward me, then took a deep breath. "About what we discussed a couple days ago—"

"Not here." The inspector glanced around. "Listen, I've got to be there when they bring St. John in, but I'll come by after talking to him. We'll go over our options, all right?"

Clark hesitated as if he wanted to press the issue, but when he looked down at me, he only nodded and moved to wrap his other arm around me. I welcomed the extra warmth, craved even more of it, longed to draw all of it into my own form in order to sear the ice from my bones.

Our bodyguards were more prominent on the drive back to the apartment than they had been since we'd first been assigned them, surrounding us, driving us through Metropolis, giving clipped instructions.

Someone must have grabbed our things from Perry's friend's hideaway because when they escorted us back home, the bags were sitting just inside the door, propped up against my fish tank. One of the officers—or maybe she was a paramedic—gave us more advice on how to warm up. Another offered to stick around until she was sure we were all right. Tellingly, Clark didn't even argue, just steered me toward the bathroom and whispered his own directions in my ear—which might, truthfully, have been the same things the woman had said, but his voice actually managed to penetrate the frost-edged fog accompanying me.

When Clark's arm slipped away from me and the bathroom door closed between us, I suddenly felt all the energy left to me dwindling away, sinking from the top of my head to the soles of my feet and staying trapped in the shadow cast behind me. It took a long moment for me to remember how to move, to strip and step into the shower and turn the water on, to keep the temperature slightly cooler than my frostbitten skin felt that it needed. I might have stayed in there forever, but the sound of the water and the feel of it on my skin only reminded me of how close Clark had come to dying in very different water.

Heat began to slowly work its way back into my body, softening translucent skin, loosening stiff muscles, uncoiling closed thoughts. By the time I stepped out of the shower, my spasmodic trembling had finally stopped, though a shudder occasionally ripped violently through my frame. I wrapped myself in a robe, then tentatively stepped into the bedroom.

It was empty, the door to the rest of the apartment closed. Quickly, reminded that Clark still had icy blood trapped in his veins, I chose out the warmest pajamas I owned and dressed quickly. Opening the bathroom door had evaporated the warm mist summoned by my hot shower, and the room seemed cold now in comparison.

When I opened the bedroom door and walked into the living room, I was a bit surprised to see that Clark had somehow convinced everyone else to leave. He smiled at me, the blankets draped around his shoulders making them look broader and stronger rather than giving him the fragile air I would have expected. We exchanged a few words, and then he disappeared into the bathroom with a bundle of clothes and clean towels.

While he was gone, I stood in the middle of the apartment, at a loss as to what I should do next. Lois Lane never stopped moving and always knew what the next step should be—or at least pretended she did—but I was so tired. It had only been nine days ago that I'd been kidnapped, and since that time, I'd been in danger more often than even I was used to. More, I had found everything I thought I knew to be true about myself being altered and had begun questioning things that had before seemed as immutable as the sun and moon. I was tired of being strong, tired of being what everyone around me needed, tired of trying to unravel the secrets that I could swear were swarming around me—or, rather, around Clark and Superman.

I started violently when Clark's hand tenderly brushed my shoulder, then willingly fell into his arms. His fingers wove through my wet hair, pressing my head to his shoulder, and I could have stayed like that forever, but we both wavered on our feet. So, softly, slowly, we moved in tandem to the bedroom. When Clark made as if to retract his arm and step to the cot, I tightened my grip and tugged him to the bed. He made no protest, just sat down on the edge of the bed and stared up at me as if seeking to memorize me all over again.

Of its own volition, my hand rose to brush across the gashes on his face, the bandages removed and the wounds exposed to the air. I watched as if the hand belonged to someone else when it moved higher to stroke back through his damp ebony hair. His own hand lifted to fold itself around mine.

"Lois," he said. That was all, but it was enough. He could say more in the simple utterance of my name than I could in a hundred articles.

I dared not speak and break the spell surrounding us, so I merely reached out and pushed on his shoulder, getting him to lie back. He watched me as I pulled the covers up around us, and when I stilled, he opened his arms and allowed me to curl up beside him, attaching myself to his warmth. A moment passed before I could even think about anything but relief that he was there for me.

"You don't need your glasses right now," I murmured, the words slurring together. It was shocking how quickly I was slipping toward sleep.

"I…" His voice trailed off, but he made no move to draw away when I stirred to reach up and remove his glasses. An image of them lying abandoned on the dock jolted me to a halt before I forcibly shook the memory away and set the glasses almost reverently on the nightstand.

Clark's eyes were wide as I regarded him, studying him intently. He could have died earlier, yet here he was—lying beside me, his arms around me. Contentment such as I had never known before took the place of the earlier cold, reshaping the contours of my entire form, melting things that had been hardened, awakening things that had been dormant.

It was a metamorphosis too large to dwell on at the moment, so I rested my head on Clark's shoulder, pleased when he shifted to more fully embrace me, and I allowed the returning warmth and the inherent sense of safety that Clark imparted to lull me into an exhausted, healing sleep.

It seemed an entirely new day—a new era—when I was stirred by the feel of Clark moving beneath me, his hand rising to his chest to slide his fingers over my palm. Drowsily, I tilted my head on his shoulder to look at him. His own expression—lit, as it was so often, by the early evening light, as if the sun sought him out as avidly as he sought its warmth—was sleepy and not quite focused. He was smiling, his heavy-lidded eyes tracing my features.

"Hey." I offered him a smile that was so immediate I didn't even have to think about it, and twisted my hand to weave my fingers through his. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm dreaming again," he answered unabashedly. "I think I've been dreaming for over a week now."

"Good dreams, I hope." I had been kidnapped, shot, beaten, threatened, confused, doused in frigid waters, and nearly drowned in the past nine days, but Clark's obvious joy and the smile that was, seemingly, untouched by his own past traumas made all that seem unimportant and distant.

"The best." The slightest flicker of uneasiness ghosted across his face. "The kind I never thought could be real."

I slipped my hand free of his in order to turn his face toward me. "This is real, Clark."

"I hope so. We'll see." Ever so lightly, his finger brushed my cheek. "I didn't get a chance to say this before, but…thank you. For saving me. You…" His voice turned rough, the emotion in his very being so strong it outshone the sun pouring through the windows. "You came after me. You…you saved me."

I opened my mouth to speak my automatic response—a teasing remark about needing him to do the cooking—but I couldn't say it. I couldn't shrug off the amount of gratitude and…awe…molding his features into an expression that touched something very deep and indispensable within me.

"That's what friends do, isn't it?" I bit my lip and closed my eyes. It still sounded so weak, so pale, so…not enough. Not a lie, just…not the whole truth. But what truth could I speak? How could I tell him that he meant so much more to me than just a friend when Superman had already admitted to me that he cared for me? How could I not tell him that thinking he was going to die had hurt more than hearing the news that Superman had probably died stopping Nightfall? Whatever I said, I would hurt one or the other, and yet I knew I needed to say something more, something a little closer to the truth.

"You know," I said quickly, "last night, we, uh…we never exchanged our secrets."

His expression closed, but he didn't pull back, didn't look away, didn't rise to his feet.

"Or, well, you did." I laughed self-consciously, involuntarily reliving the instant of our kiss and Clark's ensuing declaration. Not that it had been that much of a secret. "But I didn't."

"Lois, you—"

"You're one ahead," I said with a warning note. As I had expected, the characteristic competitiveness made him subside. "So…you know the night we started this little tradition? I told you I couldn't sleep because you were in the room? Well," I grimaced. "That was a lie."

Clark wisely kept his amused smile almost indiscernible. "To tell you another secret, Lois—I kind of knew that."

I rolled my eyes. "I'm not surprised. But…" I swallowed, suddenly afraid of confessing this, afraid of what it might change. "The reason I couldn't sleep…it was…well, it was because I was thinking about Superman."

Clark's hands, one resting on my waist and the other on my shoulder, slackened a bit. He made a tiny grimace, not disgust, but maybe disappointment. And hurt—expected, but painful nonetheless.

"I couldn't sleep last night either," I added hurriedly, wanting to erase that look from his eyes.

"I wasn't in the room," he observed quietly.

"I know." I refused to let him look away. "That's why I couldn't sleep."

A sense of purpose suddenly infused Clark's being, shining outward from his expression as he shifted to face me more fully. "Lois…there's something I need to tell you. It's about…why I left Metropolis with Superman. He and I…well, you see, he's my—"

I could have screamed in frustration when the sound of someone knocking on the door cut Clark's confession off mid-word. His expression turned panicked, and he glanced hurriedly to the window.

"Clark?" I asked quietly, determined to ignore the banging on the door for as long as it took.

He didn't say anything for a long moment. Finally, he sighed and slumped in defeat. "That's probably Henderson. He might have news about Luthor."

"Yeah." I echoed his sigh and slid to my feet. Losing the warmth Clark had exuded made the apartment seem abnormally cold. The sun was hidden behind clouds, casting the apartment into shadows.

Clark moved into the living room as I unlocked and opened the door. Henderson swept in without so much as a "hello," his steps clipped and intent. I exchanged a puzzled glance with Clark as we sat down side by side on the couch; Henderson took a seat across from us, hands clasped in his lap.

"Well?" I demanded. "Is Nigel going to turn Luthor over?"

"Eventually." The inspector scooted forward in his seat, perching on the very edge. Impatience was a trait I recognized immediately, and I realized that this, rather than anger or some other emotion, was the cause of Henderson's abruptness. "It may take a lot of explaining, some concessions, and no small amount of legal blackmail, but I'm confident that he'll soon realize helping us is in his best interest."

"How long?" I asked, leaning forward myself. I would have jumped up and paced, but Clark's solid, steady warmth beside me was so tempting, so alluring, that I couldn't bear to draw away.

"Depends on how long it takes to convince St. John we can protect him from Luthor's wrath, but I'd think we should be able to get a warrant tomorrow. Can you two get everything you have ready for me tonight? Without the proof you claim to have, Kent, I need everything else I can get—that, Nigel's statement, and your testimony might be enough to do it." Henderson paused to study Clark. "Have you heard from the friend you sent after the evidence you've accumulated?"

"No." A muscle flickered in Clark's jaw. "We overheard Nigel and Bender talking about him. They said they'd sent men after him."

"I'm sure he's fine," I interjected hastily. "Jimmy's the most resourceful person I've ever met. Trust me—nothing can keep that kid down."

"But you haven't heard any word from him since he left?" Henderson looked between us.

"No," I said when Clark swallowed and stared down at his hands. "But he'll turn up."

"Hmm." After a moment, Henderson nodded. "All right. Well, then, I'll come by in the morning to pick up what you do have."

"Are you sure that's safe?" Clark's tone was decidedly—almost painfully—neutral, his gaze staggeringly intense.

"I'll send three cars over," the inspector replied evenly. "He won't move against us with so many witnesses around."

"I don't know." Clark's hands tightened over his knees, the knuckles turning white. "Luthor's using him in his criminal organization now. It's only a matter of time before word of that spreads to the entire criminal underworld. Once that happens, no one will dare move against him."

"I can't start spreading rumors myself." Henderson stood. "I need proof of what you claim. Do you have any?"

The shadows that had arrived with Henderson seemed to collide with one another as they fought to cloak Clark's eyes. "No," he finally said.

"Then we'll just keep doing what we've been doing. If what you say is true, I'm sure we'll hear of it." The inspector turned to me, finally deigning to acknowledge that I was in the room with them. "Lane, can you get everything ready by tomorrow?"

"Of course," I huffed, the response automatic. I knew they were talking about Superman, of course—I wasn't an idiot—but I was reluctant to speak and break the spell that bound Clark and I together. Right now, I was his friend and ally; the minute I spoke to defend Superman, I would be lumped in with Henderson in his eyes, an outsider he had to carefully and painstakingly convince of his veracity.

Besides, I had my own questions for Superman. Questions such as: where had he been earlier? Why didn't he ever show up when Clark was in danger? How had he let Nigel get away? Why wasn't he doing more to help us bring down Luthor? Where was he now? And—the question I had been wrestling with since visiting Superman's premature memorial—how had Luthor managed to capture Clark in the first place when Superman should have been guarding him?

Questions that had been asked and answered only halfway, if at all. Questions I was sure had valid answers that might lower Superman from godlike proportions to merely heroic in my eyes but would, I was sure, nonetheless prove he wasn't a villain. Questions I was afraid to ask because everything in my life had been turned upside down in the past several months—in the past year, actually—and I wanted, needed, at least one thing I could depend on.

Unwillingly, my eyes were drawn to Clark. I wanted him to be the one thing I could lean on, and he could be that thing…except for his unreasoning fear and suspicion of Superman. I had questions for the superhero, yes, but Clark…Clark had accusations.

"Well, I'd better be getting back." Henderson moved toward the door, his stride hurried.

"Bill, wait." Clark stood and took a directionless step toward him. "I know you…have a hard time believing me, but…you need to be very careful here. Luthor is surely growing tired of this game, and when he's done with it…who knows what his next step will be."

"I understand you have concerns," the inspector said, almost gently. "And trust me—I'm taking suitable precautions. Everything's going to be fine, Clark. You're going to be safe, both of you."

The half-nod Clark gave was more resigned than confident. "Thanks."

"Good night," I added as I shut the door behind the inspector. When I turned back to face Clark, he was looking out the windows, his expression tight and closed. Impatience—perhaps imparted by Henderson—and tense frustration prompted my next move. "Just a minute, Clark. I forgot to tell Henderson about Perry and the Daily Planet."

Without waiting for a reply—or the knowing glance he'd probably give me—I ducked out into the hall, pulling the door shut behind me. "Henderson, wait!"

His salt-and-pepper brows rose as he turned, already halfway down the hallway. "What is it, Lane?"

I waited to speak until I was standing just in front of him, close enough so that I could lower my voice. "Henderson, when Clark asked to speak to you alone the first day he was free…what did he talk to you about? What were you two discussing just a minute ago?"

"How to keep everybody safe," he replied tersely and moved to walk away.

I caught hold of his sleeve, moving to stand in front of him, blocking his path. "No. What did Clark talk to you about? What warning did he give you?"

"It was told me in confidence." Yet there was a hint of hesitation in his reply, enough of a mark of weakness that I pressed the attack.

"Please, Henderson—I just want to help him. I want to understand him."

He wavered. "I don't know. If he had wanted you to know, he would have told you."

"Unless he thought it would put me in danger," I pointed out. Then, when he hesitated again, I added, "I know he thinks Superman is working for Luthor."

A sigh lifted Henderson's shoulders, then carelessly dropped them. His mouth tightened before he gave a half-nod and began speaking. "He doesn't think Superman is working for Luthor—he thinks the imposter posing as Superman is working for Luthor. He's convinced that the superhero flying around in a cape is actually a trick, though how he thinks Luthor could accomplish that, I can't begin to guess."

"And…" I had to swallow in order to work enough moisture into my throat to continue. "And how likely do you think it is that Clark is right?"

Henderson rubbed his forehead with a hand, and I abruptly realized that he looked exhausted. The last week hadn't been much easier on him than on me and Clark. "When Clark first mentioned his concerns to me, I considered it. I've been watching Superman closely, studying his public appearances and observing his reactions and dialogue when I talk to him, but…"

"But what?" I demanded. Panic was beginning to encroach along the edges of my mind, nibbling away in tiny, torturous bites. Superman couldn't be what Clark claimed! If he was…if he was, what was there left in the world to believe in? What good could triumph? What hope was there for me in a world so dark?

"Superman has been acting a bit…harsher…since his return."

"Not violent," I insisted. The gentleness of the superhero's touch, the way his hand could curl so softly around my shoulder, the tenderness of his eyes and voice—I hadn't imagined those.

"No, not violent," Henderson agreed. "Just…more abrupt. Less patient. He doesn't give interviews, he rarely sticks around long to talk to the police, he doesn't give the criminals a chance to turn themselves over, he's quicker to tie them up and leave them without a word."

"Those aren't crimes," I heard myself say. Wincing, I bit my lip. Clark believed Superman was a criminal; by fighting so hard to disprove that belief, was I betraying Clark? Or was I being loyal to my friend? And when had the world gotten so complicated? When had the clear-cut answers and simple solutions I had once taken for granted disappeared?

"No, and if you ask me, they could just be the result of the circumstances surrounding Superman's departure. We threw him out of our city at the first hint of trouble, Lane! We tossed him out and then just accepted the fact that he saved our world from an asteroid! And only then, only when we were sure we were safe from his purported effect on us, did we let him back in." Henderson shook his head slowly, bitterness turning his voice ragged. "How many of us stood up and let him know—really let him know—that we appreciated what he did and didn't want him to go? What have we done to thank him for saving our world? No, we're lucky he came back at all, lucky he helps us, lucky he does anything for us."

I looked away, not sure anymore what I was feeling—guilt, relief, agreement, or something entirely different. I felt…tired. And that wasn't me. What had happened to the fragment of myself I had regained while talking to Perry over the phone? What had happened to all that fire and resolve and fighting spirit? What had happened to me, period?

"Anyway." Henderson straightened. "I don't think his actions are anywhere near enough to condemn him as an imposter."

"So you think Clark is wrong?"

"Clark is one of the few truly good men I've ever met, but…" The inspector's hands curled into fists before he stuffed them unassumingly into his pockets. "People think they know what powerlessness is, Lois…but they don't. That awful feeling of total helplessness, the sickening realization that there is nothing—not one single, solitary thing—you can do to change your situation or alter your fate, the utter hopelessness of having pain inflicted that you can't stop…that's something that doesn't go away easily. And it's something Clark endured every day for weeks. I think he needed Superman…and for whatever reason, Superman wasn't there. And I think Clark is still trying to work through that."

The fear I had felt thinking Superman might be a traitor was as nothing compared to the terror invading and consuming every cell in my body at the thought that Clark might be permanently damaged by Luthor's torture. But I was tired of being afraid, tired of dancing around subjects I didn't want to face, tired of avoiding truths I wasn't prepared to hear, tired of pretending my problems away.

"Do you think…" Even with my newfound, forced determination, I had to push the words out past a barrier, all the articles on the Internet about trauma victims once more swirling through my mind, clogging up what little rational thought still remained to me. "Do you think he'll have to be hospitalized?"

Henderson blanched, looking toward my apartment door, before forcing his expression back to his normal, stoic mask. "I'm not a psychiatrist, Lane. I can't make that kind of decision."

"But he's getting better," I told him, as if he had doubted it. "He wasn't afraid of Nigel—I don't think he's afraid of Luthor, and he…he…" I trailed off, unable to finish by saying that he no longer mistrusted Superman. Because he did. In fact, he almost seemed more afraid of Superman now than before.

There was a moment of silence as Henderson inspected his shoes. Finally, he looked up at me, glanced around the hallway, and reached out to tug me closer to him, closer to the wall. He lowered his voice to a whisper. "Lois…did Clark tell you about Kryptonite?"

I felt myself pale and wavered on my feet. Henderson's hand on my arm steadied only my balance, doing nothing to ground and stabilize my soul as Clark's touch could do. "Yes," I whispered. "He told me."

"He told me as well—told me about the existence of a stone he claims can steal Superman's powers, hurt him, and eventually kill him, a secret presumably told him in confidence. Lois…why did he tell us?"

"No." I shook my head, suddenly calm—the unnatural, sickly calm one felt while teetering on the edge of a drop so perilous the mind could not allow it to be comprehended. "He wouldn't. Clark couldn't hurt a fly. No matter what he thought about Superman, he would…he wouldn't!"

"Right." The word was affirmation; the tone was so neutral it was like a slap in the face.

"He wouldn't," I said again. "Clark would never hurt anyone. He might talk like he distrusts Superman, but you didn't hear him when we visited the memorial—he admires Superman."

"He also thinks this Superman took the place of the old one," the inspector pointed out.

He's stolen it all from me. Clark's words whispered hauntingly through my mind.

"No," I said again, hoping that sheer repetition could convince everyone of Clark's innocence. And yet…hadn't I myself wondered what plan had given Clark such purposefulness over the last couple days? Hadn't I also made the connection between Kryptonite and the wordless decision he had made?

"Fine." I straightened and glared at Henderson. "I'll ask him. I'll ask him why he told us about the Kryptonite. If he gives a satisfactory answer, we'll know he's okay. If he doesn't…well, we'll help him. No matter what it takes."

The look Henderson gave me was almost pitying. "I don't think it works that way."

"It does," I proclaimed desperately. "It will. Clark is my partner. He always…" My voice went mute before I had finished that irrational, impractical, illogical sentence. My expression crumbled as I fought to hold back my tears. Ironically enough, I felt that only Clark's embrace—the hugs he offered so freely and spontaneously—could cure me of this sudden, irritating weakness.

"Uh, Lane…" Henderson sounded uncomfortable, the hand with which he awkwardly patted my arm tentative and unsure. "Listen, I'm sure I was…well, Clark hasn't been free that long, and several stressful events have taken place in that time, so…that's probably why I sounded so pessimistic. Time will probably be the answer."

His reassurances, half-hearted and shallow as they were, served well enough to stem the flood of tears and return substance to my voice.

"Right," I managed to say with the semblance of a smile. When I stiffened my spine to give the appearance of straightening, Henderson's hand fell back to his side. Relief flickered across his expression.

"Look, Lois…I don't know how to say this without embarrassing us both, but…well, Clark's not the only one having a difficult time this last week and a half, and I just…well, I wanted to say that you've really stepped up to the plate and—"

I cut him off before he could trot out any more obscure sports metaphors. "You're right, Henderson—you're embarrassing us both."

"Right." His smile was almost back to his usual smirk as he folded his hands back into his pockets. "Well, I'd better get back down to the station. I don't want to leave St. John alone too long, and I'll try to talk to Bender again without eliciting a lawsuit."

"Good luck with that," I said with a wan smile. "Oh, and, Henderson?"

He paused and looked at me over his shoulder.

"Thank you. For everything you've been doing."

His eyes slid behind me to the apartment. "He's my friend, too, Lane."

Emotions, thoughts, memories, and an overriding confusion rioted within me, a veritable mob that threatened to overwhelm me and turn my mind to total anarchy as I entered the apartment. Only one thing kept them in any kind of order at all—the conviction that I had to stop dancing around my fear for Clark's mental stability and confront him directly. Maybe my fixation with tact had been the wrong idea, I thought, only halfway mockingly; maybe I should have stuck to my strengths all along.

"Clark, why—" The question sitting on the tip of my tongue shriveled and blew away at the sight of my partner looking up from the research on the coffee table to me. His eyes lit up, his expression softened and opened and lightened all at once, and his entire frame seemed to strengthen and straighten.

"What?" I asked hesitantly as the door closed behind me with a click.

"N-nothing." Clark hastily looked away, but not before I caught sight of his small smile disappearing and the shutters once more closing over his eyes.

"What?" I demanded, taking a step toward him. This wasn't the question I was supposed to be asking, but I was pathetically grateful for any reprieve.

"It's just…" He shrugged, one hand rising to fiddle with his glasses in that nervous mannerism of his. "The way you came in…it just reminded me of…"

"Yes?" I sat down beside him on the couch, taken aback yet again by how bright and warm and solid he seemed, by how much comfort I derived from his proximity. "You can tell me—our secret, remember? Us against the world?"

"Well…it reminded me of when they brought you to the cell." Clark's eyes tightened, but he met my gaze steadily enough. "I was so…happy…to see you again that I couldn't speak at first. I had…missed you so much. And then to see you—well, in a manner of speaking—after so long…I felt…" The hint of a flush adorned his cheeks, but he didn't look away. "I felt like I had been brought back to life."

Henderson was wrong, I found myself thinking as I smiled warmly at my partner. Superman was wrong. Even I was wrong. Clark was so much stronger than we all gave him credit for, so much more stable and healthy than we feared.

"Lois." Clark angled toward me on the couch, his knee brushing mine and eliciting a spark of electricity between us. "I'm…I'm sorry."

"Sorry?" I repeated, confused. "For what?"

"For being happy that you were in that cell. I mean, you were in danger. You had just been kidnapped and thrown into a prison. Obviously, I shouldn't have been happy! I should have been scared for you, or—"

"Clark, I didn't like realizing you were in a cell, either, but I was still glad to see you. That's not a crime."

"No." His smile was slow and did funny things inside of me. "It's not. I just…I can't let Luthor hurt you, Lois. I can't let him—"

"He won't," I said quietly, my hand falling on Clark's arm, stilling his nervous gestures. "He won't hurt either of us. Never again."

Clark's dark eyes were veiled from me when they slid closed, drinking the moment in, and yet his expression was piercingly transparent. So relieved, so hopeful, so wary, so full of longing.

And I suddenly realized—it didn't matter if I ever asked him my question or if he never gave me a satisfactory answer. I wouldn't let Clark be caged again. I would never let anyone take him away from me. No matter what it took, as long as I had breath in my body, I would protect him. I would save him from any threat or danger or crime-boss that neared him. For my sake, but most of all for his—for his integrity and spirit and brilliance—I would do everything I could to ensure that the sun was never stolen from him again.

"So," I said in an effort to hide from him the depths of my reaction—to hide from him that I had even momentarily wondered if he belonged in a padded cell. "Any secrets tonight?"

"One," he stated, calmly enough for all that his hands tightened over the papers. When they crinkled, he relaxed, smoothed them out, and set them carefully on the table.

"What is it?" I prompted him.

"I'm afraid, Lois." He shrugged self-deprecatingly. "I'm afraid that one day, I will tell you something, and you will hate me. I'm afraid that I'm going to lose you. I'm afraid because I don't think I could…" He cut himself off, also afraid of pressuring me, and cleared his throat. "Anyway, that's my secret."

"Then here's mine." I paused an instant to marshal my thoughts, flashing back to memories of a Corn Festival and line dancing and a family so full of love that they couldn't stop smiling or hugging or touching one another. "Remember that story we did in Smallville? The one where you pretended to be Superman?"

Clark shifted a bit on the couch. "Yes."

"Well, I think that was the best time I've ever had in my entire life."

"Seeing me get beat up?" he asked with a lift of his brows.

"No!" I hit him lightly on the arm. "Seeing you with your family. Seeing you…just be you. Having you include me. My family's not the greatest, as you know, and it was nice to see a family that…well, actually acted like one."

"You are family," Clark returned seriously. "I talked about you so much that Mom and Dad probably felt like they knew you even before they met you."

"Oh, good," I said with mock-relief. "That means insulting them wasn't their first impression of me."

"First impression?" Clark repeated, as if mulling it over. "No, their first impression of you was when I told them that the best reporter in the business actually joined her name with mine."

I stared at him for a moment before forcing myself to realize that, of course, he meant the byline on our story, not…well, not the other option for combining our names.

"I miss them." Clark's voice was almost inaudible. "I always talked to them, always asked their advice, always…depended on them. I feel…incomplete…without them. Without…" Once more, he fiddled with his glasses.

Carefully, feeling an alien wash of tenderness flow through my veins, I rubbed my hand down his shoulder and arm. "A couple more days and this will all be over, Clark. Then you can talk to them again. But," I added impulsively, "until then, and even after…you can depend on me."

His gaze carried an actual, real heat as he met my eyes, so much so that I was surprised his glasses didn't melt beneath it. "I do depend on you, Lois. You're the—best friend I've ever had." The slight pause between words was a dead giveaway to the fact that he had started to say something very different, something I was pretty sure I could guess without any problem.

I wanted to tell him that I depended on him too, but he had already turned back to the research spread out over the coffee table. The moment had passed, and preparing everything we had on Luthor and LexCorp for Henderson soon demanded our full attention. But the next time a moment like that came, I promised myself, I would not let it slip away unused.

And Then There Was Light

A Lois & Clark Story
by Anti-Kryptonite

Part 17 of 23

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