Continuing Tales

And Then There Was Light

A Lois & Clark Story
by Anti-Kryptonite

Part 19 of 23

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Henderson was busy getting the arrest warrant, but he sent two squad cars to pick up Jimmy, this time complete with a password and a badge number to avoid another mix-up with Luthor's men. Jimmy's absence made the apartment seem twice as large, ten times as stifling, and as silent as a cemetery. I was too confused and shocked to speak, and Clark didn't say anything unless I asked him a direct question about the article we were outlining in preparation of Luthor's arrest. I felt bad for the slump of his shoulders and the sadness in his eyes, but I couldn't wrestle free of the morass of confusion within my head to reassure him.

And how could I reassure him? I had just discovered that he had lied to me—that Superman had lied to me—and though there were obviously a lot of extenuating circumstances, I needed time to come to terms with the truth, with the world as it really was. When I could look at him without flinching away from the similarities between him and Superman, then I could confront this revelation. Until then….well, I needed something to distract myself, and the exposé on Luthor was enough to keep my attention.

At least at first. But slowly, even that was circumvented by this revelation, large enough, it seemed, to wipe every other thought from my mind. All the pieces were slowly being fitted together, each ambiguous statement, circuitous reply, evasive answer, revealed secret, and veiled memory coming together to form a picture that left my stomach in knots and my heart in shocked stasis.

I had finally found the piece that would unlock Clark to me, and yet, instead of making everything he did understandable, it only confused me more.

"I do wear a mask," he had confessed to me, yet he had also told me that the masks had to come off at some point. And I believed him when he had said he wasn't wearing a mask that magical, star-struck night. No matter what lies had been told, what evasions had been habitual, I knew that Clark did love me.

I did believe that he was who he said he was.

And yet…he was so much more in addition to that. The most human person I knew, I had told him, but he was also Kryptonian. The most honest person I knew, and yet he possessed a secret larger than any other I had ever discovered. The gentlest man I had ever known, and yet he had at one point possessed enough strength to almost single-handedly shove an asteroid away from Earth.

"Lois?" Clark's voice was so hesitant, so careful, so tentative. As if he had not once commanded such great strength that no human weapon could harm him. "Is it all right if I look at your gunshot wound? We haven't checked it since last night."

Maybe it was a test—to see if I would still allow him to come near me—or maybe he was just concerned about me, but I studied him…and knew that I could trust him. And that wasn't even a revelation; hadn't I trusted him almost since the moment he had entered my life?

My mouth was a parched desert, so I simply nodded wordlessly and rolled up my sleeve.

He kept his eyes fixed on the bandage as he unrolled it and the wound as he tended it. His hands were soft, his touch so light I scarcely felt it at all. I stared at him, unable to look away from his familiar face. The face that had barely registered when I blew into Perry's office that first day; the face that had grinned at me when we were made partners; the face that had looked at me with such unabashed interest that I had thought it best to warn him away; the face that had been painted with startling sadness the night I woke at my desk and watched him walk away from me; the face that had stared at me so compassionately when he forgave me for leaving him trapped in a cage.

I looked for echoes of Superman, reflections of the hero I had worshipped, but all I could see was Clark.

I had thought Luthor had stolen so much from him before, but now…now I did not think I could wholly understand just how much he really had taken from Clark.

"I couldn't stay in one place, Lois. I…I had to move around—or I thought I did anyway," he had said when I asked him why he left Metropolis, left his job, left his friends…left me.

"It takes Superman's powers away. It hurts him. It…it can kill him," he had said of Kryptonite. "It makes Superman ordinary, Lois. It makes him—just—like—me."

My breath caught in my throat as that memory assaulted me with a brutality far exceeding Nigel's. Trask had hurt Clark with Kryptonite, I now realized, but Luthor had dosed him with it every day for a month. "But I'll never get you to believe me. How could I? It's not like I can prove any of this. Not now. Maybe not ever again," his letter had admitted.

Were Clark's powers gone forever?

And if they were…was that why Superman thought the Clark he had known was dead? Why he had looked so sad when he told me I could never understand just what Clark had endured? The reason for his look of pity when Clark asked if they would be flying?

It was shocking enough to realize that Superman had a brother—that Clark had a brother; to try to puzzle out their obviously complex relationship was almost too much. And yet I had to try, had to figure it out, had to make sense of the deluge of confused memories and ambiguous statements and oblique conversations drowning me in their heavy, enveloping depths.

How did two alien brothers—one who thought of himself as human, raised by human parents and living a human life; the other, I assumed, older so that he had held himself aloof and hidden until he could unveil himself behind a Kryptonian symbol—how did they face the changes that had occurred in their lives?

Superman couldn't flee from the fact that Clark no longer had powers; regardless of whether the Kryptonian sanctuary really existed or was nothing more than the agreed-upon answer to keep people from finding out that the iconic superhero passed his time hanging out with Clark at his apartment or in Smallville with the Kents, even that arctic Fortress wasn't far enough away to hide from what he had not been able to stop from happening to his brother.

"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." Superman's voice had been resigned, defeated, when he had described what Clark had gone through. And then he had told me, "Yet in the end, much as you might dislike it, Clark is an ordinary man."

But he shouldn't have been, should have been so much more than ordinary, should have been extraordinary, and Superman could not let go of that fact.

And Clark?

"I do like Superman. He was always there when he was needed, able to save lives, able to do safely things no one else could. He got to see hope birthed in people's eyes, got to see them realize that the world possessed more than just darkness, that it contained good and hope and light as well. When I was absent, or late, or just…not enough…he was there. He was what everyone wanted, what the world needed. What Ineeded."

"The man you think is Superman is an imposter."

I frowned abruptly at the two conflicting memories, my breath catching in my throat, and Clark paused in the midst of rewrapping the bandage before I gave him a tiny shake of my head to reassure him that he hadn't hurt me.

Suddenly I knew—Clark thought his brother was dead.

The pointed questions he had asked during the interview, his fixation with the idea that Superman was missing something, the way Superman had implied that Clark was missing just as much as he was.

But why would he think Superman was dead? Why couldn't he accept Superman as his brother?

"I will do what needs done," Superman had said so bluntly it might as well have been a cliff-edge.

"He's Luthor's puppet."

My throat closed up when Clark finished securing the bandage and reluctantly let his hands drop away. "There you go." He sounded hoarse, his eyes pleading with me yet dropping away when I stared straight at him.

"Thank you," I managed to say, my voice so dry and withered that the two words were almost lost.

"So…" Clark looked to the laptop on the coffee table where we had been preparing the exclusive we would write as soon as Luthor was arrested. "Is there anything else we need to do?"

Work, I couldn't help but think. Whenever something upset me, I always turned to work, and Clark knew that. He was even trying to help me, supplying me an easy way out. But I didn't want to work right now. I wanted to look at him and reassure myself that the man I had thought I could depend on was still the man I had thought him to be. I believed that he was—but, as I had told Clark during one of our midnight secrecy-exchange programs, that was faith. And I didn't want faith in him; I wanted unshakable confidence.

It took me a long moment to fight off the memories—to shake off the realization that every time Clark had disappeared during an emergency, he had likely been calling his brother to my rescue—to gather enough strength to utter words that were not a hail of accusations or a storm of questions, but when I finally did speak, my voice was brisk and cheerful.

"No," I said, standing and moving—not to anywhere specific—just to put a tiny bit of breathing room between myself and Clark. "We've done as much as we can until the story actually breaks. I guess there's nothing left to do but wait for Henderson to call, right?"

"He should be getting the warrant soon," Clark agreed mildly. He watched me pace, keeping me in his line of vision, making no move toward me, just as he had done the morning after I had kissed him. It struck me that Clark treated me almost like a wild animal he was afraid of scaring off, a creature of unfathomable beauty that enthralled him, a being he wished to draw to himself and yet despaired of ever touching. It was a fanciful image, but it lodged itself in my mind.

"I don't always feel human," he had confessed quietly. And it suddenly occurred to me to wonder just how much it affected Clark to know that, though he wished to be human, he was in fact an alien. Luthor had certainly taken advantage of that chink in Clark's armor. "He said I didn't belong here…he said I'd never…that I was an al—too different."

But how had Luthor figured out that Clark was Kryptonian? How had he discovered that Superman and Clark were connected? Bitterness and regret alchemized in my stomach to form a twisting sickness. No doubt Luthor had seen what I had missed and connected the dots when Clark and Superman had left Metropolis simultaneously. Or perhaps he had stumbled upon Clark's invulnerability when he had threatened the Kents. However he had discovered the secret, he had certainly taken advantage of it.

I came to an abrupt halt in the middle of the living room.

Luthor had taken advantage of this secret.

"He's Luthor's puppet."

"…I had no choice but to delay my return to Metropolis," Superman had claimed, and then, looking straight at Clark, had said, "It took a lot out of me. That's why it took so long for me to…return." And then, that stark answer: "I will do what needs done. There is nothing else for me to do."

Clark was saying something, but I couldn't hear him, couldn't focus on the words, couldn't do anything but finally admit to myself what I had so determinedly been avoiding.

Superman was working for Luthor.

He had saved those thugs from the fire—perhaps even started the fire, as Clark had intimated.

He had let Nigel go.

He was allowing Luthor to use him as a means of intimidation among the criminal world.

He was guarding Clark and me; the jailor in our prison.

Dimly, vaguely, I realized that Clark was touching me, that he had taken hold of my arms and turned me to face him, that he was peering at me with worried eyes. I stared up at him and remembered the terror I had felt when Nigel threatened to bring Clark back to another cell. I remembered my earlier fierce resolve to never again let him be caged.

And I knew exactly how awful it must have been for Superman to see his brother powerless and trapped in darkness.

And I knew, then, that Superman had made a choice to save Clark—a choice he was even now paying for.

"I do what is necessary—it is you who doesn't understand that."

With all these truths frothing up within my mind, I suddenly had to ask Clark a question, had to confirm everything that had just snapped to reality within my mind…had to stop hiding Mad Dog Lane away from the world out of fear of being abandoned yet again.

"I'm fine," I said, not needing to have heard Clark's words to know he was asking if I was all right. His hands on my arms were warm, solid points that grounded me, anchored me to this world that had, perhaps, changed with this revelation.

The world had changed, but Clark…hadn't.

"You're sure?" he asked, regarding me with a look that would have set fire to my blood and given wings to my heart if I had not been so caught up in the answers pouring through my thoughts.

"Yes. I just…stumbled. Clark, can I ask you a question?"

"Anything." Was there a trace of eagerness in his voice? He had been trying so hard to lead me to this truth. "I'm really not trying to hide things from you, Lois. I want to tell you, but…"

But how did I ask him if he hated Superman for selling out to the enemy in order to protect his brother's life? How did I ask him if he had been so shocked by Superman's decision—so disappointed in the moral betrayal—that he had convinced himself his brother had died?

"Clark…do you think that if…if Henderson can't get a warrant…do you think we should agree to do what Luthor wants in order to save our friends and families and the Daily Planet?"

Shock made him slow; his hands dropped away from me as if he were moving through molasses. I did not break his gaze, did not move away, did not say another word—I was frozen in time, waiting for the answer I already knew he would give me.

"Henderson will get the warrant," Clark finally said, and his brow wrinkled as he studied me, his perusal so intent that it seemed he would have peeled back the edges of my skull and peered directly into the brain if he could. And, I thought belatedly, he had once been able to—able to fly through the skies under the liquid sheen of golden sun—able to brave any danger without fear of harm—able to see the vastness of space or the intricacies of DNA on a mere whim…but all that had been ripped away from him.

"I know," I said, my mouth moving even while my mind was distracted. "But…if Luthor managed to wriggle out of it somehow or other—if he threatened us again—do you think we should give in to save the lives of everyone we care about?"

"No." Clark shook his head, but his eyes never left mine, wondering, disbelieving, mystified. "Of course not, Lois. We need to protect them, yes, but giving in is not the way to do that. If we give in, we're only inviting more brutality, more demands, and ultimately promising even more concessions. What we have to do is keep fighting—there's always a way out, Lois, always a way to be strong, even when it seems like there's only darkness left. It's our job to find that way out, to find that light, and make it even brighter."

It was naïve. It was idealistic. It was beautiful.

It was Clark.

As I looked at him, his face naturally falling in earnest, sincere lines, I knew that even if Superman hadn't accompanied him on his travels around the world before they had come to Metropolis, there would still be records of miraculous rescues and "guardian angel" sightings wherever Clark had visited. The innate goodness and evident compassion that had first attracted me to Superman were so obvious, so unmistakable, so blatant within Clark now that I wondered how I had not been blinded by them from the first moment I walked into Perry's office and interrupted Clark's interview.

But I couldn't focus on that right now. I needed to focus on Clark's relationship with Superman.

So I said, "You sound like Superman," as if I were merely observing a fact.

Clark didn't seem to realize the trap I was setting for him, still preoccupied with his astonishment over my question and the passion he felt in response. "Superman, more than anyone, needs to remain uncompromising and uncompromised! The world made him into a beacon of hope—even you called him that, Lois—and that means he has to live up to that. He has the privilege—and the responsibility—of being someone that everyone can look up to. He needs to be there, needs to do what is right, to stand for truth and justice, as he claims. Because if he doesn't do that…if he lets go of that…what does he have left?"

"Age and power don't matter," I had overheard Clark telling his older brother as he hovered before him. "What makes Superman is what he does for others!"

"Clark…" I stared at him wonderingly, stunned by both the confirmation of all my suspicions and this revelation that challenged my theory that Clark had willingly chosen a human life. "You want to be Superman." It was half a question, half a statement.

"W-what?" Clark stammered, his earlier confidence and assurance vanished like mist beneath summer sunshine. His gaze fell away, dropped to the floor, and his hand half-rose toward his glasses.

"Everyone wants to be Superman at some point in their lives," he finally said, and I flinched because if there was any point in Clark's life when he had wanted the powers, it surely had to have been in that empty, black cell. It had to have been when he was rescued by a brother he felt he no longer knew and realized he would never again fly on his own. It had to be when he woke up every day and had to learn anew how to shave and walk and interact with others—had to learn who he was without the abilities he had possessed his entire life.

With that thought, I broke free of my paralysis and reached out a hand to rest it on Clark's arm, to grasp it hard enough to make him look at me. "But you're super just as you are," I told him, softly lest Luthor be listening through his bought "employee," firmly lest Clark think I was only trying to console him. "Clark, you don't need to fly or see through walls or bounce bullets off your chest to be special. You just…have to be you."

"But…" His voice dropped to an almost inaudible level, so quiet that surely I did not hear him, but rather interpreted the vibrations that traveled from his hand to mine. "What if being me…isn't enough?"

"I would ask him if a…a half life…is enough to sustain him. Because I think that's something he needs to know. Something I need to know, now more than ever."

I moved my hand to intertwine my fingers with his. "It's enough for me," I whispered.

And I wasn't lying when I told him that.

But he had lied to me, and I was only now beginning to realize just how much I didn't know about him, how much he had concealed from me, how much I had so blithely missed. And I needed time—time to figure out how I felt about that, what I thought about all the clues he had so purposely been dropping, all the ramifications this secret would have on me. And he was staring at me with that look, the one that made every thought reluctant to form, and every muscle in my body go on strike, and every nerve ending beneath my skin turn to chilled fire—and it was so hard to think when he did that.

So I pulled away from him—pulled away from the intimacy of the moment and the secret that I might have just revealed—and took a couple aimless steps away from him. I almost collapsed in relief when I was saved by the ring of a phone from having to think—despite his bone-melting, heart-stilling, thought-stealing gaze—of something else to say that would break the seriousness of the moment and possibly ruin the reassurance I had just given him.

Both Clark and I jumped slightly at the ring, as guilty as if we had been caught doing something illegal.

With a sharp glance over at Clark, I picked up the phone. "Hello?"

"Lane, this is Henderson. I just wanted to let you know I've got the warrant. We're heading to Lex Tower now to pick him up."

"We'll meet you ther—"

"You'll stay right where you are," Henderson barked. "We've already cut enough corners on this case—everything about the arrest has to be clean-cut and completely by the rules. Besides, you two are pretty much still bait. If you head for Lex Tower, you can bet he'll catch wind of it and abandon ship. So stay right where you are. I promise, you'll have the exclusive."

"But—" I forcibly silenced myself. He was right, but that wasn't what made me give up so quickly. What cut off all my arguments even before they began was the memory of Clark's fear and hatred of Luthor and the knowledge that I had already dragged him into danger twice. Could I really ask Clark to confront the very man responsible for everything bad that had happened to him?

"Lane?" Henderson sounded a bit worried. Did he really think, I wondered irritably, that I would have left in the middle of a phone conversation to rush out and nab the exclusive? On second thought…yes, he probably did.

"Fine," I said abruptly. I might be conceding, but that didn't mean I had to be gracious about it. "You'd better call the minute you have him in cuffs! And no other news outlet gets this story, you understand?"

He chuckled. "Understood."

"Good." I bit my lip, then angled away from Clark and lowered my voice. "Henderson…did you already get rid of the Kryptonite?"

"Yes. I thought it best to destroy it as quickly as possible. Why?"

I sighed, confused by my conflicting feelings of relief and regret. "No reason. You'd better hurry, Henderson. I won't wait forever for that exclusive. And you don't want to give me time to write an article about the slowness of MPD response times, do you?"

I could almost hear him roll his eyes before he hung up the phone.

"They're going after Luthor?" Clark questioned as soon as I turned toward him.

"Yes," I said quietly.

He nodded, his face absolutely blank.

"You could probably call your parents now," I offered, though I already knew what he would say.

Despite his slight hesitation, he regretfully shook his head. "No. Not yet. Not until it's safe."

His parents. That was something I hadn't even considered yet. Even without meeting his parents during our trip to Smallville, I had known their names and general personalities. It was impossible to know Clark without hearing about them, after all, and meeting them had only confirmed my half-conceived ideas about them. They had been a bit more technologically savvy and sociable and…well, fun…than I had expected, but one look at them with Clark had been enough to prove how much they loved him.

They loved him enough to lie for him, to hide his origins, to look me straight in the face and spin a tale of allergies and nobly assumed identities and handcuffs that hadn't latched all the way and a fire that had gone out because of improperly applied gasoline.

And Clark…he had been lying, too. He had, in a sense, betrayed me, and I still didn't know what I thought about that.

And it was so hard to think it through when he was right there, looking just like the partner I had liked having, the friend I had missed more than I had thought possible, the man I had been beginning to know all over again over the past week and a half.

"Umm, Clark?" I strode to the closet and grabbed out yet another coat. I didn't even know what had happened to the one I'd been wearing when I dived into the water after Clark. "I, uh, need some air, okay? I'm going to take a walk around the block or something."

"Lois, Henderson said—"

"Please, Clark, I need some space, all right?" That, I was sure, would silence his protests; he had been so worried about crowding me.

I already had my hand on the doorknob when his quiet, broken voice froze me as solid and as motionless as a statue. "Please, Lois…don't go."

I squeezed my eyes shut and willed myself not to succumb to the familiar, smoky voice, not to turn and flee into his open embrace, not to wonder what he must be going through at this moment. "Clark, I promise I'm not going to Lex Tower. I just need some time to think, time to process everything that's been happening, time to…to decide what I feel about everything."

"What answers do you think you'll find out in the street, Lois?" A bit of desperation leaked into his voice, darkening it with the weight of liquid fear. "Forgetting for the moment the fact that Luthor's targeted you and going outside is incredibly dangerous…what answers can you find out there, all alone?"

"What do you want me to do?" I asked in a drained voice. "I can't just sit around and wait!"

Stubbornly, I refused to turn and look at him. I knew he needed me at this moment, needed me to be the friend I had promised him I'd be, needed me to sit with him while we waited for news of his tormentor's arrest…but if I looked at him, I would forget that he was a Kryptonian, forget that he had a brother, forget everything but the kindness of his smile and the warmth of his gaze and the sincerity of his voice.

"Then we'll find something to do," was his quiet answer, and I had to wonder if there was any question that could stump him.

"Like what?" I demanded, finally turning to face him, anger making me strong. He was standing in a shaft of sunlight that fell from the two tall windows facing my living room, his hands spread loosely at his sides, giving me that same impression of him seeking to befriend a wild creature that might run from him at any moment. And yet, despite that, the image of him standing in my apartment…it looked—felt—right. "We've already written as much of the story as we can!"

"Like…" He shrugged. "Play board games."

"Board games," I repeated flatly. "Clark, if you don't think I'll find any answers outside, what makes you think I could possibly find them in a board game?"

He tried a tiny smile and another, smaller shrug. "At least in Trivial Pursuit, the answers are all typed out on the card."

A surprised chuckle slipped from me, and with it, the remaining remnants of my panic and fear and confusion. "All right," I gave in gracefully, and only then realized that I really didn't want to leave Clark, that I would have taken any excuse to stay he had given me.

"Do you even have any board games?" he asked, probably to disguise the radiant glow that had sprung up around him from the moment I took my hand off the doorknob.

"Yes." I scowled and gestured to the closet. "I think Lucy left a couple behind when she moved out, and she gave me one for my birthday once. Oh, and I got Scrabble as a Secret Santa gift, though, really, don't you think that's a stupid gift? I mean, she didn't even know if I liked it! And how did she know I didn't have it already, anyway?"

Clark laughed, though it seemed born more out of relief than genuine humor. "She knew she drew your name, didn't she?"

"Watch it, Kent," I said sarcastically as I pulled open the closet door and allowed Clark to stretch up and pull the dusty boxes from the top shelf. "Now I'm not going to go easy on you."

His dark brows arched in disbelief. "You mean, you were thinking of it before?"

"Not a chance." I smirked. "You seem like one of those people who play to play; I'm one of the kind that play to win. So we'll both be happy."

He laughed again and cleared an empty space on the table. I helped him, easily and instantaneously moving to make room for the items he took off the table and stacking the other games to the side. We both reached for the same game—Scrabble—at the same time. As we set up the board and arranged the tiles, I blinked rapidly to clear the mist from my eyes.

Clark and I worked so well together. More than that, we…fit…together. What would I do if I lost him again?

"Clark?" I bit my lip as soon as I uttered his name, but it was too late to take it back.

"Yes, Lois?" He knew me so well, gazing at me intently, ready to answer whatever I asked him.

"We are friends, aren't we?" A stupid question, I chided myself. I had already realized—in fact, never even doubted—that his love for me was real. But right now, I needed to know if he was still that one thing I could depend upon, that rock I could lean on, that point of stability in a life that constantly fluctuated and changed. I needed to know that, secret portions of his life or not, he was still there for me.

Clark stared at me, seemingly stricken. "Of course we are," he said raggedly. "You're the best friend I've ever had—the closest friend I've ever had."

"Me, too," I managed to say, though a lot of my attention was centered around not crying. "I just…I don't want to lose that, Clark."

"You won't." For a single instant, a shadow darkened his expression, a sense of vast loss, yet it was quickly erased as he reached out to place his hands over mine with a slight smile. "You never will, Lois. I'll be your friend forever."

"Forever?" I repeated, inwardly shaken by his promise. What if I wanted more than friendship? I knew he did, which was, I belatedly realized, why he seemed so sad to accept the role of best friend. He thought he had lost me to his super-powered brother…and yet he was willing to give me what I wanted. Willing to be whatever I wanted him to be.

"As long as you want," he returned, stubbornly refusing to let go of one last tendril of hope.

"And partners?" I continued, now, strangely, much more confident.

"Assuming you'll take me back."

"Well, I do want this story on Luthor and you're the one with the inside track," I began to say teasingly, then stopped, unable to treat this moment so lightly. "Of course we're partners," I said instead. Then I took a deep breath and relinquished my fears and doubts. "And whatever else might come up? Are we that, too?"

Clark's breath noticeably caught in his throat. "Whatever else? What…what else is there?"

I couldn't come right out and say it—I wasn't that brave, or quite ready yet, truthfully—but I couldn't leave it there either, so I said, "We'll just take it one day at a time."

"One day at a time," he agreed, his voice a mere whisper.

"I get to go first, right?" I said with a quick grin, brandishing a tile to break the intimate moment.

"If you want," he replied, and I would have had to have been blind to miss the subtext of that brief exchange.

Both Clark and I were on edge as we waited for the phone to ring with news of Luthor, so I was surprised to realize that I was having fun playing games with him. Scrabble ended in a draw—Clark claimed he won, but that was only because he insisted on disqualifying every one of my good words. I won Monopoly fair and square; truthfully, I wasn't sure how Clark managed his real bills after the way he lost all his money so quickly. Clark, however, won Trivial Pursuit—I would never understand why he memorized all those useless facts that no one could care less about it and that would never be written up in an article. And Chess…well, that was a draw, too, because it was incredibly hard to concentrate with Clark smiling at me from across the board, and Clark seemed equally distracted every time I laughed or teased him or gestured with my hand or spoke or…well, just about anything. Not that I minded. In fact, just knowing that he was fascinated by my slightest move made me relax, my every gesture becoming slower and more designed, my laugh more languorous, my speech less planned and more natural

When the phone call finally did come, I had almost managed to forget what was happening in a tower across town. Clark and I were finishing a light dinner, and we both stared at the phone as if it were a snake we had only just realized was sharing the room with us.

"That should be Henderson," I said quietly, needlessly.

Clark swallowed. "Yeah." He glanced to the TV that had been on since Jimmy's arrival that morning. Superman had not yet splashed his colors across the screen; in fact, he hadn't been seen since he had flown with me two days before.

Finally, feeling oddly reluctant, I lifted the phone to my ear, silencing its imperious screech. "Hello?"

"Lois, he's gone. We don't know where he went. We picked up Mrs. Cox and his Indian servant, and they claim Luthor was in the building, but…we can't find him. He's gone to ground."

I couldn't say anything, could only stare at Clark, his expression so blank, so grim, that I halfway wondered if he could hear Henderson's voice from where he sat.

"We did find something else, though," the inspector continued, not waiting for me to find my voice. "In a vault in his office—there was Kryptonite, a huge chunk of it, easily three times as large as the piece you and I found."

Something suspiciously close to a whimper escaped my throat, and I found myself looking toward the television, vainly searching for a hint of blue and red.

"There was also something else." Henderson paused—not waiting for a reply, but steeling himself to finish. "One of Superman's Suits, torn up, mangled, missing the cape. There's no blood on it, but beside it, we found a vial of what forensics thinks will match the alien tissue we found on the remnants of that cape your paper discovered after Nightfall."

"He staged Superman's death?" I questioned hollowly.

"Maybe." Henderson's tone was perfectly noncommittal, but I saw it for the lie it was. "Listen, I'm assigning an extra protective detail to you and Kent. And this time, they won't be hiding; if Luthor comes after you two, I want you both safe. We've got every available man looking for him, but…I'm sorry, Lane. I'd hoped this would go smoother."

I shrugged, the move made on autopilot. "Luthor's slippery. But he's also arrogant and he likes to have the last word—I'm sure he'll turn up soon."

"Yeah. You and Clark be careful, Lois, all right?"

"Yeah." The click the phone made when I set it down sounded like a death knell. The entire world seemed, suddenly, fraught with peril and uncertainty. A shudder passed through my body at the thought of Luthor hiding out in the street or waiting in the hall outside my apartment.

Clark's hands were clasped in front of him. He met my gaze evenly. "Luthor got away?" he asked matter-of-factly.

"Yes." I did my best to match his tone but only partially succeeded. My foolish, incautious gaze fell on the television screen. "Did you know he faked Superman's death after the Nightfall asteroid?"

"No. Not until you told me." That muscle flickered in his jaw, and I had to hold onto my own hand to keep from soothing it away with a tender finger.

"Clark…" I summoned up strength from some deep place inside of me, drawing it up out of the depths for his sake. "Henderson has the Kryptonite."

He betrayed no emotion. "All of it?"

"Well, he destroyed the piece we got earlier, and he found a large chunk of it now, so…it seems likely."

His hands clenched into tight fists. He squeezed his eyes shut, his head tilted up to the last, disappearing rays of twilight's muted sun.

"And," I did my best to sound cheerful, "they've arrested Mrs. Cox and Asabi."

He flinched the tiniest bit. Unbidden, the memory of Asabi moving to loom over Clark as Luthor led me away from the cell rose to the forefront of my mind, and another shiver rippled through me.

"Oh, Clark." Instinctively, willingly, I stepped up close to him, pulled him to his feet, and wrapped my arms around his neck in a hug. I felt…safe, whole, accepted…when he closed his own arms around my waist, clinging to me as if I were all he could depend on. "I'm so sorry, Clark," I murmured. "I wanted this to be over for you."

"For me?" He cupped the back of my head and pulled back just far enough to regard me with surprise. "He hurt you, too, Lois."

"Yes, he did," I replied soberly. "He hurt me every time he hurt you."

Too much to interpret—emotions too strong for anyone but Clark to safely contain—passed across his face like wind-tossed clouds, and he hugged me tightly to himself. I rested my head on his shoulder and willed all my strength to be imparted to him, willed my embrace to be as comforting and healing as his always were for me. I couldn't help but flinch with empathetic pain when a shudder tore itself through his frame.

"I'm sorry," I murmured again as tears dripped from my eyes.

"Don't apologize for him!" Clark's fierce admonition stuck in his throat when he tilted my head up and caught sight of the tears. "You're crying?" His tone was thunderstruck, awed, reverential. His hand spanned the side of my face; his thumb tested the texture of my tears. "For me?"

"Yes," I choked out, splaying a hand over his cheek. "For everything he stole from you."

He went so still in my arms that, save for the warmth permeating everywhere his body touched mine, I might have been holding a mannequin. A few more of my tears splashed against his thumb. "You do know about that?" he finally breathed out.

"I do," I whispered with an attempt at a smile.

"And you don't…" He searched my eyes carefully, his arm tightening around my waist, his breaths short and clipped. "You don't hate me?"

I let out a breath that might have been a sob and rested my head on his shoulder to hide the emotions I was sure were splattered across my features. "How could anyone hate you?"

"I wanted to tell you," he whispered, his head bent over mine.

"I know. I know." A few more tears escaped me, squeezed out of me, the last dregs of all that resided within me, everything else already drained away. "I just wish I could give you back everything he took from you. He stole so much, Clark!"

"He didn't steal you." His smile was like a burst of fresh sunlight after too long a time in the dark. A burden seemed to fall from his shoulders when I gave him a watery smile. "That's all that matters."

His smile was sincere, joyous, completely uninhibited. His eyes sparkled with hope and love and stars that shone as brightly as suns. His arms around me were strong and sure and welcoming. His words caressed me and filled me up and undid all my tears.

And I knew then—knew without a single doubt or question—that I loved him.

Not as a brother.

Not as a friend.

I was in love with him, a love strong enough to make his happiness more important than the lies he had told, a love powerful enough to make me willing to give up my own fears and doubts and questions in favor of protecting him, a love faithful enough to ensure I never again confused him with Superman.

Lois Lane loved Clark Kent.

I sank deeper into his embrace, held onto him more tightly, enveloped in the safety of his arms and love. And I squeezed my eyes shut and savored this feeling, this moment, this instant when nothing and no one else mattered. I wanted to remember this for the rest of my life, wanted to be able to close my eyes at any given time and recapture all the feelings imbuing this ethereal moment with all the magic that brought a warm glow to the room around us.

"No more secrets, Lois," he whispered in my ear, and despite the fact that Luthor had escaped us, he sounded happy, almost exultant. "I don't have anymore. You know them all now."

I smiled against his shoulder and breathed in the scent of him. I only had one secret left, but I couldn't yet reveal it to him, not until after I talked to Superman. But contemplating that conversation was a minefield I didn't want to think of, not now, not wrapped in Clark's embrace. So I simply held onto him and said, "And I'll never give them away. They're mine—ours."

"Us against the world," he agreed, and laughed.

The carefree, joyous sound banished darkness and turned even the shadows into sunbeams. And I basked in the light.

And Then There Was Light

A Lois & Clark Story
by Anti-Kryptonite

Part 19 of 23

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