Continuing Tales

And Then There Was Light

A Lois & Clark Story
by Anti-Kryptonite

Part 21 of 23

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I woke with a start, and was, for a moment, wholly unable to recall what day it was, or figure out why the room was still coated with night's shadowy fingers, or tell what had woken me so abruptly. Belatedly, I felt a weight on my shoulder and looked to it. The moon had changed position since I had fallen into dream-touched sleep, but a sliver still held tightly to the edge of the window; that and a light I didn't remember having turned on in the living room were enough to illuminate the long-fingered hand shaking my shoulder, the tight blue sleeve that led up to broad shoulders made even broader by the cape sliding like falling water behind him, and Superman's face, his expression grimly intent as he whispered my name.


I was suddenly very much awake, trying to sit up and finding Superman's firm grip halting the movement. "Clark!" I exclaimed.

It seemed impossible, yet Superman's features fell into even sterner lines, a strange, almost arrested expression painting itself over his face. "What did you say?"

"Clark," I repeated in a hushed tone. Finally managing to brush off his now-slack hand, I sat up and looked frantically in the direction of the window. "He can't see you here, not like this, not now. You have to le—"

My voice withered and blew away in brittle shreds. My heart's steady beat stuttered. My breathing turned ragged and uneven. My body lost all independent motion.

The cot was empty. The blankets were twisted and rumpled; one hung over the edge, its limpness giving it the impression of death.

"Clark?" I said again, then louder, "Clark!"


"No." My hand on Superman's chest shoving him away from me wasn't nearly strong enough to budge him, yet he fell back several paces nonetheless. I stumbled to my feet and moved to the cot, as if mere proximity would make Clark suddenly appear out of thin air. The blankets were cold, all the warmth leeched away.

"Lois, he's—"

"Nightmares," I interrupted Superman again. He was only a brightly colored haze in my vision, an obstacle to my comprehensive glance across all of the apartment I could see from my current position. "He has nightmares. He gets up and cooks. He's probably making breakfast. In the kitchen."

Except that it was terribly early—more like late at night than early in the morning.

Except that I couldn't hear him, couldn't feel his presence, couldn't imagine him staying away when he knew Superman was in the bedroom with me.

Except that Superman was looking at me with a terrible expression, a chilling knowledge in his hooded eyes, an implacable purpose evident in the set of his shoulders and the corded tension of his muscles.

My mind catalogued those facts, but I couldn't stop myself from hurrying out of the bedroom, darting a quick look around the living room, and jerking to a disappointed—terrified—halt in the kitchen.

The empty kitchen.

"Clark!" I called again, louder, careless of any neighbors that might be light sleepers, knowing only that I had to find him—that his absence could mean nothing good.

"Lois!" Superman tried to get my attention, his voice deeper, sterner, than I'd ever heard it, but I called Clark's name several more times, unable to admit that he was not in the apartment.

That he had left me. Again.

Finally, when all other options were exhausted—when even my strange desperation could no longer let me ignore the fact that Superman was trying to tell me something—I turned to the superhero. "Where is he?" I demanded.

"Lois, calm down." Superman held up conciliatory hands. The cape flaring behind him in the breeze let in by the open windows—the windows I had closed and locked just two or three hours earlier—ruined the calming effect he was trying to exude. "Clark isn't here."

"Where is he?" I asked, and shocked myself with the coldness of my own voice. "What did you do to him?"

Surprise flittered across Superman's face as I advanced on him. "Lois, please. I need your help."

"You need my help?" I repeated incredulously. Then, annoyed with myself, I shook my head. "Where is Clark?"

"He's gone to Luthor."

"What?" I gasped, all the blood draining from my body, leaving me white and empty, deprived of all life and light. "How did Luthor get him? Where were you?"

"Luthor didn't take him, Lois. Clark went to him. Voluntarily."

I couldn't help it—I laughed. "That's ridiculous. Clark hates Luthor."

"Lois." Superman stepped forward and would have placed his hands on my shoulders if I hadn't hastily moved back a pace. "After I left you, I thought about what you said. And I came back to talk to Clark about what had happened. I wanted to tell him…to tell him that I had tried. And I had failed."

I blinked, suddenly struck by the image of Clark and Superman standing side by side, leaning against the ledge of a skyscraper, and looking out over Metropolis as they discussed…me? "You talked to Clark about what I told you?" I asked. It was a silly concern, nowhere near as important as the absurd assertion that Clark was meeting with Luthor, and yet it was enough to momentarily pause my panic attack.

"He wouldn't listen to me," Superman said. He was staring into the distance, almost unaware that I was still in the room. "He commanded me to stay away from you, said that he would do whatever he had to in order to protect you from me. And when I left, he left, too."

Now that I had a mystery to solve, an investigation to conduct, a lead to pursue, I was able to stave off panic and exhaustion both. My mind fell into easy, ordered lines. "You don't know that he went to Luthor," I said calmly even as I tried to translate his ambiguous statements into a progression of events I could understand. It was hard, practically impossible, to imagine Clark leaving me all alone without even a word of explanation, even harder to imagine him voluntarily and solitarily going to meet the man who had held him captive for long, painful, nightmarish weeks.

"Luthor's the only one who has what he wants."

"And what does he want?" I questioned, puzzlement creasing my brow.

Superman raised his eyebrows, as if he thought I should have figured this out already. "Kryptonite. I know he told you about it."

Despite myself, I let out another disbelieving laugh. "Clark can't touch Kryptonite. It would hu—"

"He can if it's sheathed in lead."

I stared at the superhero before me, noticing for the first time the intensity and urgency trapped within him. He shifted his weight, his hands clenching and unclenching, and his voice was just the slightest bit frayed. His expression was distant, distracted, detached.

"Clark wouldn't leave me," I stated quietly. It wasn't one of the questions my reporter's mind was putting forward, or even that good of a defense…but it was the one thought running through my mind. Clark had promised he wouldn't leave me again. And I believed him. I did. With an effort, I shoved aside the image of my partner walking out of the newsroom with his belongings all packed up, his gentle, caring face disappearing behind the elevator doors.

Superman only looked at me, his head cocked slightly. And this time, it was I who looked away.

"How would he even know where to find Luthor?" I demanded irritably after a moment. "And how do you know all this?"

"Because…" Superman paused and swallowed. "Because the last time I flew away from him after arguing about you, something very bad happened. And I didn't want that to happen again. So I came back. And I followed him away from the apartment, watched him take directions from some man I've never seen before, and listened when he bargained with Luthor for a piece of Kryptonite."

"Why?" I burst out. "Why would Clark want Kryptonite?"

Feeling small and alone—abandoned—I wrapped my arms around my middle, huddled in on myself in a vain attempt to recapture the feeling of Clark's embrace. I was unable to recall it, however, not with the doubt soaking in from every pore to consume me. Had Clark seen me with Superman last night? Had he seen the superhero kiss my cheek? Had he gotten the wrong impression? Didn't he know that I loved him? I wanted to cry out in despair.

But how could he? The thought struck ice through to the very center of my being. How could he know that when I hadn't told him? I had told Superman instead of him, given the brother he no longer trusted the words I was sure he wanted more than anything else in the world.

"That's why I need your help," Superman explained, jolting me from my self-absorbed thoughts. He sidled a couple steps nearer the window. "He told me he would do anything to protect you. And he thinks you need protection from me."

"Clark would never hurt anyone," I retorted with false confidence. Inwardly, however…inwardly, I was trying my best not to remember what Clark had told me just the night before. I do know that I would do anythingto stop him—to stop anyone—from hurting you.

Superman let out a small sigh. "He thinks I'm an imposter, Lois."

Every cell in my body blazed with terrified flames, transformed into a million, billion sparks that set my very soul alight. Henderson had wondered why Clark had told us about the Kryptonite. And the night Clark had told me the secret of the deadly stone, he had seemed unusually intent, severely purposeful, and disproportionately relieved when I believed him.

I would do anything to stop him—to stop anyone—from hurting you.

"But Luthor will kill him," I whispered, suddenly unable to speak any louder. "Clark's brought down his empire—Luthor will destroy him."

"Clark offered him a deal." There was no hint of emotion, no nuance or inflection in Superman's voice, no sign of the betrayal he must have felt. If he were telling the truth. "Luthor would leave you completely alone, and Clark…Clark would rid Luthor of Superman. Luthor hates Superman—he would do anything, even ally himself with Clark, to rid himself of the alien. For all we know, he even encouraged this action while Clark was his prisoner."

"No." I shook my head and backed up farther, distancing myself from Superman's assertions. My back thudded into the partition wall separating the kitchen and living room. "This is wrong. You misunderstood or…or something. Clark would never hurt anyone—and he certainly wouldn't meet with Luthor to accomplish it!"

"Lois, you asked if Clark and I had argued before Nightfall," Superman said, the barest hint of impatience feathering his tone. "The truth is that we did. We argued about you…and only days later, he was imprisoned away from the sun. And, last night…we argued about you again."

He didn't have to spell out the rest. It was there in what he didn't say, there in what Clark had said, there in the subtle changes in Clark.

Superman gentled his voice, his hands hanging loosely at his sides. "Lois, he thinks that by getting rid of me, he'll be helping the 'real' Superman come back."

That statement so shocked me that I simply stared at Superman for a long moment. The "real" Superman? I had assumed that Clark thought the "real" Superman had died saving Earth from the Nightfall asteroid. Part of the reason, if I were completely honest, that I had resisted the idea of a "false" Superman so strongly was because I had not wanted to go back to the world I had occupied for a month, the world that had possessed no superhero to right wrongs and avert tragedies and stop evildoers. But if there were another Superman…

"I need your help, Lois," Superman continued, his soft, hypnotic voice weaving its way through my astonished musings. "I need you to get the Kryptonite away from him before he hurts either me or himself. Please, Lois. I need you. Clark needs you."

Clark. Yes, he did need me. No matter where he had really gone—because I knew he would never have willingly met with Luthor—no matter whether he possessed an alien rock or not, I knew that he needed me. Ineeded him. We were partners; we were supposed to be together.

So I hurriedly threw on a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt. Unable to explain the action, I also rummaged through Clark's belongings and found one of his old sweaters. He must have left it behind in his Planet locker, hanging there for Perry to find and bring back to him, and it still smelled of him, the scent I had grown so used to that I had no longer noticed it. Until it was taken away. Until it was no longer there for me to breathe in and savor and confirm that I wasn't alone.

I pulled the sweater on, rolling the sleeves up, and then headed back out into the living room. Superman was standing as close to the window as he could get. His stance painfully reminded me of Clark standing there just the morning before. When he turned to look at me, his expression was even almost identical to what Clark's had been—blank, giving nothing away save the painful grip he held on his emotions.

"Ready?" Superman asked quietly.

I nodded, finding it impossible to speak past the myriad thoughts running laps in my head. Superman scooped me into his arms, cradling me close to his chest, and took to the heavy-clouded air beneath a now-obscured sky, but those were facts that passed me by. My mind—my heart—was full of Clark. His awestruck expression when he had stepped close to me and told me I was beautiful. His hand on my cheek, caressing me in that tender, caring gesture only he made.

Only he made…

The "real" Superman…

There was something there, something that tugged at the edges of my awareness, something that was begging for attention like a puppy dancing around the heels of a preoccupied owner.

I tensed in Superman's arms, peering all about in an effort to see where he was taking me. Not that the destination really mattered—not so long as Clark was there—but I couldn't believe that Clark had really gone to see Luthor. No matter what he had said about protecting me—no matter what Superman claimed—I knew that Clark didn't believe in giving concessions to the enemy, not for any amount of dark promises or dire threats.

Superman shifted me in his arms slightly, as if compensating for my restless movement, and my hand fell on his chest. The wind whipped at my hair and made a rushing noise about us, but I could still clearly feel Superman's heartbeat. It was irregular, almost erratic, certainly much more unstable than it had been during our last two flights. With a frown, I glanced to Superman's face, but he was looking straight ahead, once more expressionless save for a tiny crease in his brow that matched the one Clark had exhibited when doubting his own integrity.

A memory danced around me, teasing me, pestering me: stone walls turned to gray rubble, a desperate, terrified expression darkening already-dark eyes, a long hand spanning the side of my face.

"Superman," I said quietly, hating the way the wet clouds enveloping us smothered my voice and made it sound small, afraid, lost. "Was Clark scared? When he faced Luthor?"

Superman kept his gaze fixed straight ahead. "It was a confrontation he knew had to occur eventually."

A tremble passed through my frame. "But was he—"

"Here we are." Superman straightened and descended to touch down on the steps leading to an enormous factory with a stylized S over the entrance. Smoke rose from the foundry within to join with the clouds in concealing the stars and the moon. I remembered Perry assigning the story of this Steelworks' construction to Diane just a week or so before the heat-wave had driven Clark away. Though its scope seemed to say otherwise, I knew that the factory had been built in a very short period of time. The owner, an African-American by the name of John Henry Irons, had built it with the stated intention of making his life count for something after being rescued from an accidental fall by Superman.

"Why would Clark come here?" I asked dubiously with an expansive look all about just in case I would be able to see him.

"If there were another Superman," the superhero said slowly, "he would need a place to dispose of the extra body."

I gaped at him, a chill pebbling my flesh despite Clark's sweater. Complete disbelief enveloped all else within and around me. I didn't care what Superman thought he had heard; the grisly acts he was imagining were entirely alien to Clark's very essence.

Superman met my gaze, seemingly oblivious to my shock and doubt. "There's a smaller door around the side that will lead us straight to him. I'll follow you inside, but I can't get too close to the Kryptonite."

The reminder that Clark was—supposedly—near obliterated what little bit of caution I had managed to dredge up. Without hesitation, I followed Superman's softly spoken directions and strode down a small path to an employees' entrance along the west side of the massive building. I don't know if it was locked; Superman pulled it open smoothly, but he could have easily torn the lock open with as little effort.

Despite my eagerness to reach Clark, I couldn't help but pause when I took in the vast, labyrinthine interior, a maze of metal ladders, grated landings, concrete floors, tools designed for large construction, and all of it presided over by a bubbling vat of melted steel that glowed molten red, flaming orange, and brash yellow, all glinting with occasional hints of silver. Sparks occasionally bubbled over; the smoke that rose through the carefully designed roof was painted over with fiery shades. The blazing hues were garish and almost painful to my eyes, accustomed as they were to the cooler black and white night sky. The heat was like a tangible presence, a wall that tried to stop me from entering.

Forcibly, I shook aside my qualms and stepped farther into the building that seemed to breathe solid heat. Ignoring the mysterious, overwhelming surroundings, I looked for any hint of my partner. "Clark? Clark!"

I jumped when Superman's hand fell on my shoulder, then scowled at him. Wasn't he supposed to be waiting outside until I signaled that it was safe? "Be careful, Lois," he advised me, the deep timbre of his voice traveling easily through the black and red atmosphere. In an odd movement, he moved his free hand to his back, hidden behind his cape.

Feeling hemmed in, I irritably shrugged his hand off my shoulder.


At the quiet, surprised, pained utterance of my name, my attention snapped straight to a shadowed corner beneath stairs leading upward to a platform. There, in the darkness, hunched against the metal as he had once been hunched against the bricks comprising his cell, was Clark. The shadows held him jealously to themselves, clasping him tightly in their cold hands, wincing away whenever the boiling steel flashed lurid hues through their intransient bodies.

"Clark!" I gasped in relief—in astonishment that he was actually here—and rushed to his side, half-falling, half-kneeling beside him. My hands instantly moved to skim over his neck, shoulders, chest, and arms, and I almost wept to catch a glimpse of his gaunt, haunted face.

"Lois, what are you doing here?" he exclaimed in a weak whisper. His gaze went past me—to Superman—and turned into a glare. "You promised! You promised me she wouldn't be hurt!"

"And she won't be—I made sure of that," Superman assured him, his hands now hanging at his sides, one clenched into a fist.

"What are you doing here, Clark?" I retorted over Superman's reply. "How did you get here? Are you all right? Tell me what happened!" My exploratory touch had found no injuries, and yet the weakness, the defeated resignation inherent in Clark's posture, seemed to speak for themselves. Had Luthor dosed him with the Kryptonite before he had handed it over?

If he had come for Kryptonite at all, I firmly reminded myself. Clark had lied in the past, but that didn't mean it wasn't Superman lying now.

"Lois." Clark lifted his hand as if it weighed more than it should and settled it on my shoulder. "He's lying to you. He's dangerous. He's going to hurt you."

I would do anything to stop him—to stop anyone—from hurting you.

My eyes fell closed in terrible dread I tried to fight off. How could this be happening? What could Superman have said to make Clark resort to such drastic measures?

Or…was I missing something? Something about Smallville, and Trask, and the reason Superman had never yet appeared to save Clark when he was in danger.

"Superman says you want to hurt him," I said abstractedly as I reached out and placed earnest hands on either side of Clark's face. "But that can't be true—you wouldn't do this. Please. We'll go home. I'll stay with you. I'm not going to leave you. Please, Clark. Please, let's go home." I dropped my voice to a murmur. "Just tell me if there's Kryptonite here."

Clark's hand tightened on my shoulder. "He has it!"

I met his gaze, refused to let him look away, mutely begged him to explain things to me. I had thought the mystery all solved, and yet…it wasn't. I had thought I had taken the leap over that perilous edge to catch the answer to all the confusion surrounding Clark and Superman—yet now I wondered if I wasn't still hanging by a thread over that eternal drop.

"How can he have the Kryptonite?" I asked him. "You told me it hurt Superman."

"Yes, Lois." Urgency coated his voice just as soot coated the sides of the vat. "It hurts me!"

"I know," I replied. A "real" Superman…the thought drifted incongruously through my mind, casting shadowed light. And Superman, bursting through the concrete wall of a bank vault…Clark, soaking wet and bruised from the beating inflicted by Trask, taking me into his arms.

"Lois…you said you knew my secret." Clark searched my face, a trace of panic evident in his eyes. And his hand moved from my shoulder to cradle my cheek in his palm, the tips of his fingers playing with the ends of my hair.

And the breath caught in my throat as time came to a screeching halt around me.

And the answer came to me in a blinding flash of light.

"Lois." Clark's whisper was all that managed to pierce the bright, frozen moment. "That man cannot be Superman…because Superman's real name is Clark Kent."

Two images flashed into being before my eyes with stark, blinding intensity: Clark cupping the side of my face as he kissed me goodbye. Superman reaching out to brush his palm along my cheek as he told me I was special to him.

And suddenly I wasn't staring at Clark anymore. I was staring at Superman through the lenses of a familiar pair of glasses, his infinitely strong hand on my face, his aloof expression tight with pain and desperation, his red and blue Suit replaced by a black shirt and gray slacks.

A thousand memories replayed themselves through my mind so quickly that all I could presently comprehend was the reordering of my very existence.

Then I blinked and Clark was once more before me, silently pleading with me. "Please," he whispered with hope that was clearly fading. "Please believe me. Believe in me."

Believe in Clark? It had been so long since I had done otherwise that it now seemed impossible to even contemplate it.

The Kryptonite.

The pretender hiding behind that familiar S.

I knew this would hurt Clark, knew it would devastate him, but I had no other choice. For his sake, I had to do this.

Slowly, for the first time realizing just how deadly Superman—or a man with Superman's powers—could be, I turned my head to regard the figure cloaked in shadows. He stared back, every muscle in his body tense, his fisted hand placed over a nearby shelf, his eyes narrowed as he tried to read my mind. I had never been more grateful that telepathy wasn't one of Superman's abilities.

Once more, I met Clark's eyes, willing him to read my mind now. "Clark…Superman is right beside me." I deliberately enunciated each word as clearly as possible, pressing my fingertips into his chest. "You have to trust me, okay? Trust me."

"No." Anguish flared within Clark's eyes, and his hand fell to his side. "Please, Lois!"

"Trust me," I said again. Then I stood and faced the man who had flown me here. "You're right," I said, picking my words with extreme caution. "Superman—he needs help."

His expression was covered with darkness, but I could feel him studying me closely, warily. "Luthor's broken him," he said yet again, but there was a hint of doubt coloring his tone. Or so I thought. But I had been so wrong about so many things that I was no longer sure I could trust my own perceptions.

I inched nearer the caped man before me, noting that his hand had dropped from the shelf at his side. Instantly, my attention was split between the edgy superhero and the collection of items on that shelf. I took another step forward, aching inside at the feel of Clark's tormented eyes upon me and the sound of his anguished utterance of my name.

"We have to get him away from here," I murmured, as calm and soothing as if I were the one taming a wild animal now. "We should take him home. We'll figure everything out then."

Slightly, I spread my hands and lifted them into the air. I dared not look away from the superhero's masked eyes, dared not break the moment of intense study. A gleam of fiery light reflected off a small box—silver, the perfect size to slide into a pocket, placed among the shelf's clutter. Only one step more and it would be mere inches from my right hand.

"And then?" questioned the stranger dressed as Superman, tilting his head. "What will you do then, Lois?"

I shrugged, the movement not incidentally allowing my hand to brush against the shelf. "We'll play it by ear."

And I drifted my hand forward, felt the lead beneath my fingers—and then let out an exclamation of pain when the imposter's hand blurred to grab hold of my wrist in a too-tight grip.

"Don't touch her!" Clark blurted from behind me.

The stranger's familiar eyes, illuminated by a burst of orange and red, widened in surprise, and he looked down at where he held my hand before releasing me. "You shouldn't have done that," he said, his voice resigned.

There was a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that grew larger as I stared up at the man I had thought to be Superman.

The imposter.

Behind me, the real Superman struggled to his feet, his glasses reflecting light to pierce the shadows.

The imposter's attention went to him. "Don't move!" he ordered harshly. "You promised you'd stay there."

"And you promised that Lois would be safe!" Clark retorted, but he fell still.

Ignoring the questions that smothered my mind beneath a haze of confusion, I took advantage of the distraction, reaching again for the lead box Nigel had once carried.

"Don't!" The imposter's voice rose with aggravation, resounding strangely through the shifting surroundings, and he used the back of his hand to casually swat me aside.

I hit the shelf, sending myriad items tumbling, then crashed into nearby stairs and lay, dazed, for a moment, sprawled across the grated steps. The darkness and muted sparks floated incessantly through my vision as I hastily scrambled back to my feet.

"No!" Clark cried, reaching out a hand to his double. "You said you wouldn't hurt her!"

"I didn't mean to!" the imposter exclaimed, a note of helplessness threading his voice—so similar to and so different from Clark's.

"I warned you to be careful," Clark instructed frantically despite the fact that his body was trembling—with exhaustion, pain, terror, or something else entirely? "Your emotions can get in the way and rupture your concentration."

The imposter grimaced and looked down at his hands as he clenched and unclenched them. "This is so hard," he muttered.

Breathing heavily, I stared between the two men. Taking their words at face value, I might be tempted to think Clark had some measure of control over his double, but looking at them seemed to dispel that possibility. Clark leaned heavily against a railing and watched the imposter carefully, warily, uneasily. The imposter stood purposely between Clark and myself, careful to keep the door always behind him. And he seemed to be waiting for something.

My guess was Luthor.

So, instead of standing there and watching Clark and the imposter's stand-off, I tentatively stepped forward, my eyes searching through the gloom for the lead box I had knocked to the floor. A glint of silver pierced the hellish darkness, and without waiting another instant to assess the situation, I dived for it, knowing only that Clark would be safer the instant I got rid of the Kryptonite.

My hand closed around the harsh edges of the box, and a surge of triumph flashed through my system before being seared to ash by the feel of strong—terribly strong—hands wrapping around my arms and giving me a sharp, violent shake. Clark was shouting something in the background, words that blended indistinguishably together as I caught sight of the anger swirling across the imposter's features.

"I told you not to do that," he growled—and he sounded nothing at all like Clark or Superman. In fact, he sounded—looked—wholly like a stranger, all the attributes that had drawn me to him really only mimicked, copied from Clark. "I tried to warn you before!" Something akin to desperation, to panic, to caged haggardness was briefly lit within his eyes by the shifting flames. "I asked you what I should do!" he exclaimed, giving me another shake that rattled every bone in my body and scattered my thoughts to dust. My feet dangled over the floor. "You said family was important—you said I had to do what he told me!"

"But Clark didn't tell you to do this!" I retorted as my hands scrabbled worse than uselessly over his. His grip didn't hurt—not yet—but the unbalanced edge to his voice didn't exactly fill me with confidence.

"Clark." The word was a snarl, and the imposter tossed me harshly to the side. "Always it's 'Clark, Clark, Clark!' I wanted you to help me—and instead you threw me away! I told Father I wouldn't do what he wanted unless he kept you safe—and still you betrayed me!"

A familiar pain blazed through my left arm, and I stumbled, unable to push myself to my feet. I rolled onto my back, blanching when I saw the super-powered being advancing on me.

"I-I didn't know!" I gasped. "Who is your father?"

As if I didn't know, I thought despairingly. As if a torrent of sudden revelations and a haze of belated understanding weren't drowning me in their shock and astonishment and confusion.

Clark, terrified desperation painted across his face, grabbed at the imposter's shoulder, but he shook my partner aside seemingly without effort, his attention fixed solely on me. Again, Clark reached for him, and this time the man wearing Superman's Suit cuffed him on the head. Clark was flung atop the steps, halfway to the next landing, and though he struggled to stand again, he was clearly dazed.

I had been in more life-and-death situations in my twenty-six years than most people experienced in a lifetime, yet fear was an emotion I rarely experienced, protected from the full extent of any approaching danger by adrenaline, focus, and purpose, not to mention the once-often, fortuitous arrival of Superman. But now, with this man whom I had so long thought to be Superman looming over me—so strong I couldn't hope to fight him off, so fast I couldn't hope to outrun him, so unknown I couldn't even begin to figure out how to talk to him—now, fear struck hard and deep, brutal, overpowering, so omnipresent that there was no way to escape it.

But I refused to face it lying down. So, ignoring the feel of the wound in my arm and the fear-inspired weakness of my muscles, I painfully picked myself off the floor and canted my chin defiantly upward.

Something—something soft, something completely at odds with his hostile behavior—stirred within the imposter's eyes, giving him back the slightest resemblance to my partner. As quickly as it had appeared, however, it vanished, replaced by cold stoniness, enforced neutrality.

My stomach dropped out of my feet, and I squeezed my eyes shut, shrank away from the touch I knew was coming. "No," I whispered, a useless protest, a hopeless denial. All my resolution to protect Clark, and I could do nothing for him. I hadn't even realized he had been kidnapped out of the same room I was sleeping in, had almost believed the lies the imposter had told me, and now I had done nothing to see him freed from this lightless prison.

Despair met fear, mixed with it to become something even more sickening, more all-pervasive, more draining.

"Father said I had to," the imposter pleaded even as his long fingers curled around my arm…began to tighten…verged on becoming painful—

"No! Get away from her!" The familiar, beautiful voice split the dark fate closing in on me. And then Clark, standing twenty feet away and leaning heavily against a railing, sucked in a deep breath and blew out.

A cold wind—as cold as the waves that had hidden Clark from me and then delivered him to me—raced past me, causing me to shrink away, wrapping my arms around my head. The imposter staggered beneath the onslaught of arctic breath, his cape flared out behind him, an arm thrown up to his own face in a warding gesture that did nothing to stop him from being flung backward against the wall.

Finally, the breeze died away; in its absence, the air felt unnaturally still and cloyingly hot. Shock flowed like quicksilver through my veins as my eyes met Clark's. The memory of Clark's—Superman's—hand on my cheek had revealed his real secret to me, but it was something else entirely to see Superman's powers emerging from my so-human partner, glasses still perched impossibly atop his nose.

Ironically, Clark looked almost as surprised as I felt; awed astonishment was written all across his face.

"Clark!" I exclaimed, though where I found my voice was a mystery. "Your powers—they're back!"

He swept my body with a gaze, then grimaced in seeming disappointment, his voice filled with an encompassing concern. "Not all of—"

"Look out!" I screamed with an out-flung hand.

The warning came too late.

The imposter stood menacingly before the door, all trace of doubt or reluctance erased from his demeanor. In the shadows, his eyes glowed red. Heat flared hotter, as if the air itself had turned molten.

Clark let out a gasping cry and staggered backward, clutching at his chest, a tendril of smoke slipping from between his fingers to fade into darkness. The smell of burnt flesh tainted the air.

I stared at Clark, horrified. Never before had I seen heat-vision used in such a way. Never before had I felt such frantic terror. Clark's name was torn from me, but it was covered by the sound of his second cry of pain as the imposter's eyes once more gleamed a red as malevolent as the green glow of Kryptonite.

The Kryptonite!

Snatching random, panicked glances of Clark, I desperately searched through the gloom. The lead box hadn't been moved since I had last gone for it, so I found it almost immediately. Yet how could I reach it? The instant I made a grab for it, I knew the imposter would be on me—and this time, who knew how far he'd go?

Clark seemed to read my mind, or perhaps he simply grew abruptly tired of being beaten. Straightening, his shirt still smoking, he tore the glasses from his face and stared intently at the imposter. For a breathless moment that stretched like elastic, nothing happened. And then, so suddenly it seemed a spell was broken, Clark's own eyes shone with a ruby light. The imposter's face shifted in surprise, but he sent out his own burst of heat-vision. A fireball exploded into existence halfway between the two super-powered beings.

But Clark was sweating with effort, and the next time a flame sparked in mid-air, it was nearer Clark than the imposter.

Dropping to my knees, I scrabbled through the clutter on the ground and closed my hand once more around the lead box. Curling my body around it, I looked up, and as suddenly as that, there was no more room for fear or horror or desperation, only for action.

Clark was slumped back against the railing, but still gamely glaring back at the imposter…and yet a long, red line down his forearm revealed that his miraculous strength was all but gone.

"Clark," I whispered.

"You are inferior," the imposter proclaimed, almost disbelievingly. "But you said he lied."

"He did," Clark panted. "That's all Luthor knows how to do. Didn't he lie about hurting Lois? Didn't he lie about who—what—you are? About what's happening to you?"

"Don't!" the imposter snapped. "You have no idea what you're talking about!"

Then, completely unexpectedly, he let out a groan and bent forward, his hands gripping the sides of his head. With a jolt of recognition, I realized that I had seen this before—the day he had flown me to a mountainside location so I could relay Clark's cunningly planned questions. I didn't know what was happening to Luthor's minion, but I wasn't about to let the opportunity slip by.

"Clark!" I hissed, capturing his immediate attention. I tilted my hands to reveal that I held the Kryptonite. "Get out of here! Quickly, while he's still distracted!"

His eyes widened. "No! I won't leave you—"

"Go!" I commanded raggedly. "I can't use it if you're here! Now, Clark!"

A flurry of emotions passed across his face and across mine in return, an entire conversation played out completely through expression and clash of wills. We each knew the other so well that no words needed to be uttered, and no time for them anyway. In the end, Clark made his torturously slow way to the door, easily evading the imposter's belated, uncoordinated grab for him.

As soon as the door closed on the comparatively bright, freshly cool exterior and on Clark, I flicked open the latch to the box. The imposter tried to reach me. My hands shook—but not enough to stop me from flipping open the lid.

Green pierced the darkness, stabbed the shadows, and effortlessly felled the man wearing Superman's Suit. He writhed on the ground, whimpers torn from his clenched jaw, the crimson cape twisted and torn beneath him, his skin turned sallow and vulnerable. I stood over him and looked down at his suffering, and I felt only grim anger.

"How could you let them do this to Clark?" I questioned in a jagged, severe tone that sounded nothing like me. "How could you hurt him so much?"

"Well, I must say, this isn't working out the way I'd hoped. How very disappointing, Lois."

My heart leapt to my throat and cowered there even as I whirled to look up. There, far above and staring down at me, stood a man who, even drenched in shadows, was immediately recognizable. And, I realized with a shiver, he had been watching us the entire time.

"Luthor!" The name fell from my deadened lips and even the darkness quivered at the sound of it.

"Father!" The imposter stretched a pleading hand up toward Luthor as the crime-boss began to descend the stairs. His expression, mingled hope and apprehension, resembled a child's, lost and afraid. "Help me! It…hurts!"

"The weak deserve to perish," Luthor replied pitilessly. "Only might makes right—and so far, son, I haven't seen much might."

The words were so harsh, so cold, so cruel, that I was half-tempted to close the lead on the Kryptonite and let the imposter deal with Luthor. Only…I was pretty sure the imposter wouldn't raise a hand against his "Father."

I backed up a pace, disconcerted by Luthor's approach, so smooth, so purposeful. Dismissing his creation, he stepped past him and reached out to me. "Close that box," he ordered, almost conversationally.

"I'll nev—" The sight of the door behind Luthor cracking open and Clark peeking inside silenced me. A spark of irritation scampered through my body; couldn't he just once do what I told him? Reluctantly, flicking a glance down to the imposter, I bit back my reluctance and pretended to concede. "Fine," I muttered, and snapped the box closed.

The effect wasn't an instantaneous cure, but the imposter's body did relax, more proof that the Kryptonite had been bombarding him with pain just as it had done to Clark.

A blur at the edge of my vision jerked my attention from the imposter to his "Father," and I managed to duck away from Luthor's lunge just in time to avoid him. Fury rained sharp hailstones through my soul, and I lashed out at Clark's tormentor. I had asked the imposter how he could have let Clark be hurt, but Luthor was the one who had masterminded that torture, the one who had doled it out. And I hated him for it.

My foot snapped his chin back; another kick sent him stumbling backward, the air knocked out of him. He was expecting the next kick, however, and he grabbed my leg and tugged sharply forward. Off-balance, I skidded toward him, horrified when he wrapped an arm around me in a pseudo-embrace. With a low tsking sound, he clamped his hand around my wrist and squeezed agonizingly tight.

The lead box fell to the floor.

Ignoring pain, I tore myself free of Luthor's hold, snapping back the hand he held and managing a glancing blow to his cheek. He let out a yell of outrage, which only fueled me—that, and the knowledge that Clark might have already come back inside, closing his escape route behind him.

I made to punch Luthor again, but was stopped by familiar—alien—long fingers catching hold of my forearm and easily holding me still. With a gasp, I looked behind me and saw the expected red S on its yellow and blue background. Fear began to trickle slowly down my spine, drop by agonizing drop.

Luthor held his hand to the emerging bruise on his cheek, and he smiled at me—a black and chilling smile. "A valiant effort, my dear, but in the end, a vain one."

"Let go of me!" I demanded of the imposter, beseeching him with my eyes. "Please!"

He did not look at me; he looked straight ahead. His hand was not tight around my arm, but it was immovable.

"Ah, quite a useless task, I'm afraid." Luthor snickered, then, and I was suddenly very certain that whatever tenuous hold on sanity he had once held was now only a distant memory. "My son is quite loyal to me."

"Your son?" I repeated skeptically. Inside, I quivered at the memory of a starlit flight, a kiss that had physically moved me, confidences shared that had, I now realized, been later relayed to Luthor. "There isn't much of a family resemblance," I added sneeringly. Every fiber in my body refused to reveal how terrified I really was. Carefully, not wanting to give him away, I chanced a glimpse over Luthor's shoulder in the direction of the door. It was closed; there was no sign of Clark.

"Not in physical appearance, perhaps," Luthor allowed patronizingly. "But I created him. Quite simple, really, if one has possession of the correct tools—and, of course, the correct genetic material. Which your partner so obligingly provided."

Disbelievingly, I stared up at the…clone? "He's just a copy," I realized aloud. But why should I be surprised? I had already come to the conclusion that everything attractive about him was simply the reflected glory of Clark.

"Not 'just,'" Luthor corrected. Leaden defeat paralyzed me when he bent and scooped up the shielded Kryptonite. "He is better than the original, aren't you, my son?"

For the first time since Luthor had made his presence known, the clone dared to glance at me. He bore a helpless, almost arrested expression, and no matter what had transpired only moments before, I couldn't help but feel pity for him.

Luthor played with the box, holding it up to the flickering light and studying it as if it were a priceless work of art. Knowing him as I now did, I wouldn't have been surprised if he did view it as such. "But I must admit, my dear, you have disappointed me. Quite irrevocably, in fact."

I shrank back when he stepped closer to me, trapped between the clone's chest and the egomaniac before me. Clark's double was the one who possessed strength enough to kill me with a single touch, a single glance, a single breath, yet I instinctively knew that he was safer than Luthor.

"I made my sonstudy everything your Superman did and said and thought," Luthor explained as if enlightening me. "I was sure that if given a choice between the superhero you so publicly idolized and the bumbling, inconsequential partner you had once had, you would choose the superhero I fashioned for you. In fact, it was a wager I made with your Superman." He gave a careless shrug, seemingly oblivious to the lives he had ruined. "I don't think he took me seriously, not until I invited you to stay with him. Then…" A cruel smile played along his narrow lips. "Then I think it became frightfully real. Didn't it, Kent?" Luthor whirled to face the shadows near the door.

I swallowed to force my heart closer to its rightful place and to work some moisture into my mouth. "If you had been paying attention earlier," I said acidly, "you would have seen that Clark left."

Luthor sneered at me so condescendingly that I actually moved to slap him. The clone easily caught my hand, now holding both of them. And still he did not look at me, his eyes locked on the man he knew as his father.

"Trust me," Luthor stated. "My credo is: know thy enemy. And Kent's major weakness is his morality, his appalling sense of ethics, his pathetic desire to be normal. Without those, he could rule the world, have all the power he wanted, force the world leaders to kneel before him, possess everything he wants—he could have simply said the word, and you would have been his, wouldn't you, my dear?" He didn't even pause to enjoy my discernible flinch away from the truth of his words. "But his integrity—his wish to be nothing more than a mere human—won't allow that! And he does seem to love you, Lois Lane, though frankly, I question his tastes. No, Kent would never leave you. He's here, biding his time, waiting, trying to outthink me."

"That shouldn't be hard," I observed sarcastically. It was dangerous, but, well, when had I ever let that stop me before? And Clark would need the distraction if he really did plan on attacking Luthor.

For a second, though, I wondered if I had pushed the crime-boss a bit too far. His eyes narrowed dangerously, and he moved so near me that even the clone took a tiny step backward. Was it my imagination, or did the clone actually almost pull me protectively behind him?

"You betrayed him as surely as anyone," Luthor told me slowly, emphasizing each word, speaking loudly enough that Clark, no matter where he was hiding, would hear. "All those months he followed you around so pathetically while you ignored him in favor of his more brightly attired identity. And then, when I offered that hero to you on a silver platter, you threw aside your 'partner' and fled into the arms of my son. You might have eventually revealed your fickle nature by throwing aside even the superhero for the nobody he portrays, but make no mistake—you betrayed Kent every time you believed my creation over him."

"I believed 'your creation,'" I said coldly, blinking away tears before they could fall, "only when he spoke the words Clark would say. When he did what Clark would do. When he touched me the way Clark does. When he pretended to be Clark! Your clone isn't Superman—he can never be Superman. And, no matter what method you choose to attain that goal, you will never be Superman either. It's not the Suit. It's not the powers. It's not even the DNA! It's something you'll never have—character. To be Superman, you have to care about something…something other than yourself. You have to be Clark Kent."

Casually, thoughtlessly, Luthor backhanded me. The tears I had been restraining fell, wetting the clone's fake S. His deceptively gentle hands tightened—not painfully, almost comfortingly—over my wrists.

"Stop it, Luthor!" Clark stepped out of the shadows, and at the sound of his voice—so strong, so determined, so resolute—the light fled to his form, armored him in illumination, fed on his inner light to brighten the whole of the interior.

"No, Clark!" I cried.

Aside from a reassuring look to me, Clark did not turn his attention from the man who had tormented him. "Your fight is with me, Luthor. You said you wouldn't hurt her if I followed your rules. You promised she would be safe while we played this game of yours."

A victorious gleam glinted coldly in Luthor's obsidian eyes. "All's fair in love and war, and believe me, Kent—" His voice turned as hard as titanium, his expression as unyielding as the firm body just behind me. "—thisiswar!"

And he flipped open the box of Kryptonite.

Clark staggered beneath the eerie light but managed to stay on his feet. The clone, however, released me and fell to the floor with an inarticulate scream. I jerked myself free of his deadweight and stood on shaky legs.

"Father, please!" the clone begged. He stared up at his father, but Luthor had no attention to spare for him.

"Superman!" Luthor exclaimed derisively as he plucked the green stone from the box and tossed the lead container away. He shoved the stone nearer Clark, and my partner let out a tiny whimper and slipped to his knees. "I don't need you, Kent. The world has no longer need of your services at all! And your clone—what need have I of a puppet Superman when you both proved so weak! I am more powerful than you both! I can have anything I want—and that's without superpowers at my beck and call! I already own more congressional seats than anyone would suspect—I control the criminal world—I can have whatever I want!"

Luthor lowered his voice, bending forward as Clark was forced to the floor, agony twisting his beloved features into an unrecognizable mask of pain. "I had Lois already, even without my son. She dated me, you know…kissed me. When Superman failed her, she turned to me. And when I was not there, when her Superman failed her again, she turned to you. You come last in her estimation, Kent. You—"

"You talk too much," I growled and lunged forward. Luthor turned startled eyes in my direction, but I had already snatched the Kryptonite from his hands and was running as fast as possible up the stairs, mapping out the quickest route to the large vat of boiling steel.

Luthor roared out his rage like an animal. His footsteps on the metal landings were frighteningly loud, unbelievably fast, indescribably deadening. I would never reach the vat in time, and so I came to a halt, pulled back my arm, and threw the Kryptonite as hard as I could toward the melted metal. Luthor tackled me just as I let the alien stone go. He fell atop me painfully hard, but that wasn't what made me freeze in defeat.

The Kryptonite had fallen short of its mark. In fact, it had fallen almost in the clone's lap.

I saw Clark reach out a weak, boneless hand toward the clone I had thought was his brother. "Throw it to me," he rasped. He was closest to the vat, and we thought so similarly that he had reached the same plan of action I had. "Give it to me. Let me destroy it."

I missed the clone's response. Luthor grabbed my shoulder and rolled me to face him. He was unrecognizable as the urbane, charming man I had agreed to date in order to get an interview; he was mad. Stark, raving mad.

"You think this will stop me?" he shouted into my face, landing a blow on my left arm that obliterated rational thought and clear vision and hope that I'd get out of this alive. "Nothing can stop me! This is my destiny, can't you see that? We don't need aliens to show us the way—I will lead us into the future! This is my world!"

Somewhere in the middle of his insane spiel, he had hit me again. His knee was digging painfully into my ribcage. And now…now, his hands were crawling around my neck, his fingers like spiders, and he was tightening his grip. Tighter, tighter, so much tighter that his face blurred in my vision, his words blurred in my ears, and reality blurred around me.

Everything was going black; even the dim sparks thrown by the boiling steel faded away. But one thing grabbed for my attention—leapt for it, reached for it, and caught it. Slowly, panicked, I managed to pry one of Luthor's hands free of my throat and then, almost unable to feel the pain the movement caused, I turned my head as far as possible and looked down through the grated steps to the floor so far below.

Clark. Even tortured and beaten, he was beautiful. He was on his knees, pleading with the clone, who was himself curled up in a small ball. The Kryptonite sucked in the light from its place so near the clone's hand. Desperately, Clark looked up at me, and for a timeless instant, our eyes locked. There was such concern evident in his gaze, so much love and fear and desperate determination no matter his own plight.

His lips were moving and I almost fancied that I could hear him, that the vaulted ceiling echoed his words back to me. "You said you loved her," he was pleading with the clone. "You said you would do whatever you could to save her—you said you wanted to be Superman for her. Well, try! Give me the Kryptonite!"

And amazingly, enspelled by the same qualities of integrity and honor and empathy that had also drawn me to Clark, the clone grabbed hold of the Kryptonite, let out a gasp of pain, and tossed it to Clark. In a smooth movement that concealed just how much it must have cost him, Clark caught the alien stone, swiveled in place, and threw the Kryptonite. It curved through the air, seemed to pause at the height of its arc—all the world holding its breath—and then it descended with a traitorous grace and fell into melting steel.

Strength surged through my limbs, stemming the tide of encroaching darkness, and I shoved Luthor off me and against the railing. I knew I should attack him immediately, before he could recover his balance, but all I could do was curl up on my knees and cough and gasp for air. The heat was so intense this far up that it felt as if I inhaled liquid fire with each breath.

"Help me!" I heard Clark urging the clone, the tenor of his voice slicing through all else to reach my ears. Luthor was ranting about something or other, and I knew he had come to his feet, but I could not seem to stand.

"He's my father!" the clone cried.

"He cares nothing for you!" Clark retorted furiously, and with this proof of his indomitability, I managed to make my way to my own feet to once more, waveringly, face Luthor. "Please!" Clark continued. "You…you're like my brother! Please! Help me! Help her! We're each the only family the other has right now."

I don't know if Luthor was even aware of what they were saying, or if he simply thought the clone utterly incapable of turning against him. All I know is that he seemed maniacally obsessed with me, perhaps because with the Kryptonite destroyed, I was now the only way he knew of to hurt Clark.

I wanted to do nothing more than beat up Luthor, but I didn't think I was quite strong enough for that. So I ran. It was galling even then to turn and flee from this single man, but the hatred, the madness, in his eyes was more terrifying than anything I had ever faced before, and it was compounded by the debilitating weakness I was feeling, as if I had been the one affected by the Kryptonite.

I ran across a landing and hit more stairs, more fell than walked down them, and started across another landing. I had drawn perilously near the searing vat and the heat was enough to dance flecks in front of my eyes.

A sob of fear and defeat escaped me when Luthor hit me from behind.

"Lois!" I heard Clark cry. But he was on the ground-floor, so far away he might as well have been on another planet. "Luthor, no! Stop! I'll do whatever you want—just let her go!"

"Oh no, Kent!" Luthor's hands crawled along my face, pulling at my hair to tug me toward the vat containing a piece of hell, choking the breath from me, his touch erasing all sensation other than hurt. "Our game is over, and I…I never lose."

"Lois!" Clark's cry was more anguished than I had ever before heard it.

And then I heard nothing more. All sound faded like mist before sunlight. I was left in a tiny pocket of nothing but blurred sights, as if the movie continued to play even after it had been muted. Luthor was still on top of me, his hands wrapped around my throat, and I could feel him, but only dimly, the sensation far removed from me.

I wished I could hear Clark, wished I could see him again, wished I could reach out and run my hand through his hair and down his neck, wished I could tell him that Luthor was wrong about me, that I hadn't really betrayed him, that I had only been confused but that I did love him, had loved him for so long, would never stop loving him…

A blur of red and blue sped past me.

The hands were torn from my throat.

I felt myself falling, falling, falling.

Something hurled me through air. Something heavy grounded me, shielded me.

Breath was gone.

And then…so was all light.

Eternal blackness claimed me.

And Then There Was Light

A Lois & Clark Story
by Anti-Kryptonite

Part 21 of 23

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