Continuing Tales

And Then There Was Light

A Lois & Clark Story
by Anti-Kryptonite

Part 22 of 23

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Pain, muted and distant.

Flames burning the air with their scent.

The sound of a soft, smoky voice whispering my name over and over again.

The taste of lips on mine and the air he breathed into me.

After a formless, dreamless time, my five senses suddenly, convulsively culminated into one overwhelming awareness of being, and as quickly as that, darkness receded, replaced by fire that surrounded us, merged with shadows to consume us, trapped us in one tiny hole of air.


For Clark was there, his body curled around mine, his hand on my face tilting my head, his the mouth that had breathed life back into me, his the voice that called my name and insisted I come back to him. Only gradually did I realize that I hadn't been breathing and that the darkness which had claimed me could have easily been death.

"Clark!" I half-gasped, half-mumbled, but it was enough for him, superhearing or no.

Relief poured from him, and he let out what might have been a sob before gathering me tightly to himself. His murmurs faded incoherently, and then, his vibrant eyes catching the light, he ducked his head and kissed me.

All the Christmas magic and birthday presents and surprise parties I had never received—and had given up expecting—suddenly burst open within me, as solid and real as the feel of Clark's body protecting mine from the unstable flames and tiny explosions going off behind him. For an instant, I thought that surely there was nothing in the world that could take this feeling away from me.

And then, succumbing to the need for oxygen, I pushed him away from me…and saw a flicker of hurt trace the contours of his face…and felt the feeling his touch had evoked withering away.



One and the same.

But what had happened to the clone?

"Come on." All sign of whatever emotions had pummeled their way through him only instants earlier were now erased as Clark adjusted his feet beneath him and half-lifted me upward. "We have to get out of here. I blew toward the explosion, but the Kryptonite weakened my strength."

At first, I couldn't get his words to make sense, no matter how hard I tried to force them into rational understanding. It was hard enough trying to stand, trying not to pull Clark—who looked as bad as I felt—down with me when my knees gave out. Only when he scooped me, not without discernible effort, into his arms and turned to stumble down stairs that were half melted away did I begin to put all the pieces together.

That blur of red and blue hurtling above me and the feel of Luthor's hands being wrested from my throat—the clone must have been able to summon enough strength to fly, or at least, leap unbelievably high to slam into Luthor. But…my wandering, numb gaze moved past Clark's shoulder to where the vat of boiling steel had once rested.

All that now remained were the twisted, searing remnants of the bottom of the vat. The interior of Steelworks was a mess of untamed flames, smoldering embers, melted metal wherever the liquid steel had hit, and smoke that tainted every breath save the ones Clark had given me.

The weakened clone must have fallen into the vat, which had been the catalyst for an explosion. I was too numb, too weak, too exhausted to figure out what I thought of the clone's demise. I dared not look back and see if there was anything left of him or of Luthor on the landing or where the vat had once been.

But…a slow frown briefly twisted my lips, jarred out of existence by the jolt of pain slicing through my arm when Clark staggered upon reaching the ground-floor. Fire roared around us, and the ground shook with what might have been another building explosion. One we wouldn't survive—just as I shouldn't have survived the last one. So how had I? How was I still alive, still unharmed, still in the dark?

As Clark's arm tightened around me, as my hand slipped from his chest and fell to the hand he had curled around my legs in order to carry me through the danger threatening on all sides, I remembered the sensation of falling and the sight of a darker colored blur, and I remembered the feel of something heavy anchoring me, something that had taken the brunt of the heat and the forceful concussion of the explosion. Something that had—I now realized thanks to my slightly more ordered, coherent thoughts—felt a lot like Clark.

Bile rose in my throat. I took advantage of the way Clark shifted me in his arms so he could open the door and half-stumble, half-fall out into open air, and I looped my arm once more around his neck…and I slid my fingers down his back.

A trembling gasp escaped him and he shuddered away from my touch, but not before I felt strips of cloth and liquid as warm as his body, sticky, clammy, and not yet dried.


A tiny sound was torn from me. Clark instantly mumbled an apology, gathering me once more close to himself and finding more unbelievable, incredible, otherworldly strength, enough to stand, enough to stagger forward, enough to cradle me close to him in hands burned by the Kryptonite when he had thrown it, enough to carry me away from danger as I trembled in the grip of dazed shock.

The blaze that was the interior of Steelworks was just barely still visible on the horizon when Clark finally fell to his knees on the side of a quiet road. In the distance, sirens pierced the early-morning air. Closer, a chilled, moist snowflake drifted from fat clouds to land on my nose.

"Clark?" I whispered.

"It's all right," he gasped weakly. "When I left you alone with the clone, I found a phone. Henderson should be coming. He'll…he'll get the fire department."

"Clark, are you all right?"

What a ridiculous question, I mused, as if it had fallen from someone else's lips. Anyone who even caught a glimpse of Clark would have called the ambulance for him, or would have driven him straight to the hospital themselves, or would have wondered if they were seeing a dead man walking; they certainly wouldn't have allowed him to carry them to safety.

At that thought, I pulled myself away from Clark's arms, then contradictorily almost cried out when he mutely let his hands fall to his side. We both slumped there on the cold ground, abstractly, numbly regarding one another as more wet snowflakes fell from the skies to dust our hair, our skin, our clothes.

The thought of clothes made me realize Clark was shivering with cold. And his back—I hadn't yet caught a good look at it, but I knew from the amount of blood and his audible reaction that it had to be bad. But chances were—I prayed—that he'd heal much faster than the average person, and I knew he would hate to be forced to go to a hospital.

And I was wearing his sweater.

"Here." Slowly, moving as leisurely as if I were in a dream, I brought my hands to the hem of the sweater and struggled to pull it up and off.

"Lois!" Clark sounded half-strangled.

"Your sweater," I explained tersely, mechanically. "You're cold, and it'll cover the wounds on your back so no one will see them."

He began to halfheartedly protest, but I had already managed to pull the sweater off, and I now offered it to him. Despite the long-sleeved shirt I wore, the cold bit deep, compounded by the frozen, melting liquid decorating all within its purview.

Clark let out another slight gasp of pain when he pulled the sweater on, and my hands instinctively flew toward him. I let them drop, however, so when the sweater was past his eyes, he only saw me huddled there before him. He hadn't answered my question about his well-being, I suddenly realized, and spared a thought to wonder why my mind seemed so numb, so hazed, so uncomprehending when only moments earlier I had been able to puzzle out recent events.

Clark—he wasn't touching me anymore. His arms were hanging at his sides; his hands were loose and empty; he crouched a foot away from me. That, I knew without a doubt, was why everything seemed so detached, so distant, so hard to grasp and process and comprehend. All I had to do to correct the problem, then, was reach out and touch him, take him into my arms, stroke his cheek.

Aside from the shudders brought on by the winter air, though, I didn't move.

And I didn't even know why.

"You…" His hands clenched into fists against the cold ground and frozen grass, as if he were once more gathering his strength. "You need to get warm. I-I'll get us a taxi. S-stay here. Just a m-minute."

And he began to rise to his feet, began to move away, began to leave me.

"No!" As impossible as it had seemed to bridge the gap between us an instant earlier, it was now impossible to remain still. I threw myself into his arms, knocking him off-balance so that I ended up in his lap. And yet his arms instantly came around me, warm and comforting and solid. Suddenly I didn't care that he was hurt, that he was Superman, that he was probably in more pain than I was; I only wanted him to keep hold of me, to never let go, to bury his face in my hair and murmur my name with that tone in his voice and tighten his hold around me in such a way that my own form was defined by the feel of his embrace…just as he was doing now.

"Stay with me?" I begged him quietly, my voice muffled by his chest, my face nestled against his neck, my eyes squeezed shut to blot out the rest of the world. The only sensation to penetrate my single-mindedness, aside from Clark, was the feel of the tiny flakes peppering my hair and skin.

"I'm not going anywhere," he promised. Amazingly, he sounded stronger, as if my need for him had done what our entrance into the night air could not.

"Hold me?" I asked, needing to feel him near me, needing to know that he did not believe what Luthor had said about me, that he would not abandon me.

"Shh, it's all right. I'm here." He tightened his embrace still further, not painfully, just solidly enough that I could have no cause to doubt his presence. "I won't let go."

My voice dropped still lower as I uttered my last, most daring, most important request. "Love me?"

"Of course I love y—" He was abruptly silent, the form that enveloped me falling abnormally still. Finally, he whispered only one word, uncertainly, tentatively, split evenly between fear and hope: "Lois?"

I momentarily resisted his attempt to move me where he could see my face before succumbing and opening my eyes to behold his shell-shocked expression. I opened my mouth, but for the life of me, I could get no words to emerge. Terror—greater even than when Luthor had been strangling me—engulfed me. What if he said no? What if he pushed me away? What if he didn't believe me? After all, Luthor had explicitly spelled out all the ways I had failed Clark—in both his guises.

"I do love you—how could you not know that?" Clark whispered, one arm pulling me closer to himself, the other skimming along my cheek. "I think I've loved you from the moment I met you. I can't help it—but I want to, anyway. I…I love loving you." He gave a sheepish shrug, his eyes now avoiding mine. "I love you, Lois. I'm sorry."

I gaped up at him. Had he just…apologized…for loving me?

"But, Lois." Clark's hold briefly tightened before loosening, as if he were preparing himself for the moment when I would slip away from him. "I can't be Superman right now."

Dread squeezed my heart in a viselike grip.

"I don't know if I'll ever be able to be Superman again. What Luthor did to the name…and the Kryptonite…I…I just don't know."

A tear slipped down my cheek to join the clinging snowflakes, then another, then another, then a blinding torrent that threatened to drown out Clark.

"I'm sorry, Lois." A thread of panic and deep, unknowable pain laced his voice. "I wish I could be Superman for you. I…I know you love him. But…"

I gripped Clark's sweater tightly in my fists, fighting to control the impending sobs, rising in tandem with the memory of his words long hours before: Why are you here with me now? Is it…it's not because of my secret…is it?

"I wish…" Clark swallowed. "Even if I could be him, Lois, I couldn't just be him. I'd have to be me, too. I can't—"

My hands moved to either side of his face and my lips met and merged with his, cutting off the rest of his agonizing, recriminating, selfless apology. "Shh," I murmured between kisses he accepted as if in a dream. "Stop it. Stop apologizing. I don't care if you're Superman. I want you, Clark. I love you. I love you."

"You…" His eyes were wide and…disbelieving?

A gaping hole opened up somewhere inside me, threatened to swallow me whole. He didn't believe me. And why should he? Luthor had been right, after all. I had betrayed him. And yet…and yet I could not stop myself from spilling the rest of my words before him, from fighting for him, from trying to make him see just how worthy of love he—Clark Kent or Superman—was.

"I love you," I repeated. Even the sensation of tears and snowflakes trickling down my cheeks faded away; all that remained in my consciousness was the man before me…and the desperate state of my heart. "I think I've loved you for a long time, but I…I was afraid, too afraid to admit it, even to myself. And I'm sorry." My breathing grew shaky as my body sagged, supported only by his trembling arms. "I'm sorry because now you'll never believe me when I say I love you regardless of superpowers. You'll never be able to trust me after what your clone—"

"No." Clark studied me as if I had granted him his every wish, one finger moving to caress my cheekbone in a move so poignant my eyes slid closed in sheer bliss. "I do believe you. I…wondered earlier tonight, when you cried for me, when you wished you could undo what Luthor had done. And as you said—you dived into the ocean after me. And…" A smile played along the edges of his tempting mouth, and I was infinitely surprised that all the snow collecting along every surface wasn't instantly vaporized by the sheer heat in his eyes. "You believed me, Lois. 'Superman' was standing right there, and you believed…me. So I believe you."

And he leaned nearer me and framed my face in his hands and rained tiny, delicate kisses down on me, on each tear, on every inch of my face. "I love you, Lois," he murmured in between those tantalizing kisses. "I love you. If only you knew how much I love you. I—"

"I do know!" I exclaimed, fisting my hands in his sweater to claim him as my own, daring to risk fate by smiling, unable to contain it any longer at the sight of his growing comprehension and joy. "You've proved it a hundred times over. And," I added mischievously, "you don't lie."

Something, some shadow, passed across his features, but the next instant, he was pulling us both to our feet and guiding us toward the crossroads where the headlights of passing cars could be seen, and I convinced myself that it was a shadow brought only by the clouds scudding across the sky, obscuring the setting moon and the rising sun and any shooting stars that might have dared to fly.

"What do we need a taxi for?" I finally thought to ask when Clark tried to flag one down. "You said Henderson was coming."

Clark shrugged, his eyes on his feet. "I don't have my glasses. And I don't know how much is left of—well, I don't know what they'll find back there. It's always best to play ignorant and let them tell you what happened before making up your own story."

"Oh." I was suddenly struck by how many times Clark had done that—arrived too late, or showed up with some vague excuse, or simply appeared with no explanation and let me or Perry or Jimmy or anyone else come up with our own reasons for it, goaded on by his innocent, clueless look.

With a sidelong, almost guilty glance to me, Clark's shoulders rounded and he stuffed his hands in his pockets. We stood there in silence several moments more, he trying to get a cab to stop for us, me realizing exactly how much I had missed where Clark was concerned.

The fifth taxi Clark waved at finally stopped, and we both gratefully sank into the back seat. For once, I was glad of the concealing darkness since it hid just how shaken I felt, just how much guilt twisted within me, just how badly I wanted to erase what Clark had endured. Reminded of his pain, I gently reached over and took his hand in both of mine. The sight of the burns seared into the flesh by the Kryptonite sickened me.

Clark watched me, but said nothing, and the rest of the ride passed slowly.

When we finally reached my apartment building, I had to pretend to a healthy strength I didn't feel and walk upstairs to retrieve money for the fare. Then I casually slipped my arm around Clark's waist to cover just how weak he really was from the departing cabdriver. As soon as the taxi turned a corner, however, Clark slumped heavily against me.

The sun wasn't up yet, but I still wondered at how long it was taking him to recover. Unless…unless there were flecks of the Kryptonite lodged within his wounds. He had, after all, thrown the Kryptonite in the liquid silver before it had exploded outward to burn him, and who knew how much of the Kryptonite had been seared into his hands.

As soon as we got inside the apartment, I directed Clark to the bathroom, handed him some clothes from the duffel bag, and ordered him to take a shower. Curiously withdrawn, he made no response other than to painstakingly shamble into the restroom, and another thrill of fear stroked white-hot trails through my mind. I darted a glance to the window in an effort to consciously will the sun above the horizon.

While Clark was in the shower, I collected a couple supplies for him, changed into warm, dry pajamas, checked the wound on my arm, and ran a comb through my damp hair. I meant to make hot tea or coffee and to shut the windows the clone had left open, but I couldn't summon the energy. As soon as I had pulled the comb through my hair one last time, my hand fell limply to my lap. Only when the bathroom door opened and Clark—dressed in sweat pants and a t-shirt, his hair wet and tousled, his hands held gingerly at his sides—took a tentative, weary step into the bedroom did I manage to rouse myself and stand.

For a long moment, we only looked at each other. I wasn't quite sure what had happened. Less than an hour earlier, we had been exchanging fantastical kisses and confessing soul-shaking love. Now…now, we both seemed afraid to move, afraid to touch the other, afraid that it had all been a dream or the results of coming down from an adrenaline rush…or a mistake? Could Clark be thinking that?

A shudder rippled through my frame, and as quickly as that, Clark stepped forward and opened his arms to me. Unashamedly, unabashedly, unhesitatingly, I fell into them and clung to him.

But weariness was stronger than us both, and when we both wavered and almost fell, I let out a tiny chuckle to cover the multitude of emotions stirred within me. Then I tugged on his hand, and pushed on his shoulder to get him to sit down on the bed. He made no protest, but he kept fast hold of my hand, as if afraid to let go. I willingly sat beside him, but gently slipped my hand free of his to turn and sort through the supplies I had set on the bedside table.

Though I assumed—hoped—the rising sun would heal his wounds, I still took a tube of antibiotic and twisted off the lid. Then I took his hand in between mine and smoothed the cream over his burns before bandaging what I could. He didn't wince away, or even let out a single whimper; instead, he watched me, his vibrant, radiant eyes tracing my features with a depth of feeling that made mischievous fairies take restless flight in the pit of my stomach.

When I finished with his hands, I wordlessly pushed on his arm and made him turn so that his back was to me. Then, trying to ignore the intimacy of what I was doing, I pulled his t-shirt up so I could see his back.

Horror assailed me at the sight of the damage. My hands trembled as I gently, tenderly anointed every raw wound, the flesh of his back treated as much by my tears as by the antibiotic. I would have bandaged as much as I could with my dwindling first-aid supplies, but Clark twisted away. He turned to face me, pulling his shirt back down to its proper place, and met my gaze.

His expression was so ambiguous, his body so still, his eyes so blank, his thoughts so shielded that I wondered for an instant if the Kryptonite had affected his mind in some way. I had never seen Clark so closed down before, not during the heat-wave, or in the cell, or even when I had first reached the Steelworks factory.

"Clark," I whispered, my voice scarcely audible. "What is it? What's wrong?"

Not that there weren't a hundred things wrong with the situation as a whole. Not that he didn't have more than enough justification for his guarded manner. Not that I myself couldn't have come up with an answer for him. But I was trying so hard to see Clark and Superman when I looked at him, trying to reassure both of us that I had meant what I told him under the coldly weeping clouds, trying to convince myself that he didn't feel betrayed by my past actions or disappointed by my blindness, and so I asked the question anyway.

For a torturous moment, Clark said nothing, remaining mute so long that I picked up a damp washcloth to wipe my hands clean, swallowing at the sight of his blood staining my fingers. Then, abruptly, he spoke softly: "It's over, Lois." And then, his voice breaking and hope and fear and endearing, heartbreaking vulnerability now evident on his face, he added almost inaudibly, "Isn't it?"

"Yes, Clark," I replied, my own voice none too steady. "It is."

He remained still an instant longer before his mask began to crumble and his body began to shake and his scarred hands rose to his face to cover his eyes as he finally began to comprehend and accept and understand that his long nightmare was over. Before he could cover his face with his hands, though, shutting me outside the solitude of his thoughts, I was there, slipping my arms around his neck, pulling him into me, running a hand through his hair as he bent his head and buried his face against my neck, feeling him hold onto me as if I were all that kept him from drowning.

We were both wordsmiths, and our relationship had always been characterized by strong wordplays and conversational sparring and verbal double meanings, but somehow, Luthor or the clone or the situation or the professions of love or the intimate moment or all of those combined had drained us both dry of words, leaving us silent.

Much as words had once flowed between us, though, there had also been moments when we hadn't needed them. When a glance or a hug or the touch of a hand had said all that was necessary. This, I knew as I enveloped Clark in a sustained embrace, was one of those moments.

Finally, when Clark's shudders eased and he sagged minutely in my arms, I drew back a bit, ran a hand across his cheek—dry, as if the moment was too overwhelming, too all-encompassing, too big for mere tears—and then pushed against his shoulder to get him to lie down. He did, settling on his side, but reached out to take my hand and tug me toward him. Eagerly, freely, I stretched out beside him. We fit together, just as we always had, as if we had been destined for one another. He tentatively slipped his arm around my waist, and I rested my head on the pillow beside him and my hand on his chest as all the physical exhaustion and mental weariness and emotional fatigue I hadn't had time to feel came crashing down on us both.

As the beginnings of a cloud-drenched dawn began to peek shyly through the windows, Clark fell into what I hoped was a healing sleep. I had intended to stay awake and decide what our story would be when Henderson eventually called, but it was only a moment before I, too, slept.

The room was lit with bright sunshine that fell in gleaming bands across the bed when I found myself gradually coming awake. Not sure what had roused me, I tilted my head a bit and found myself gazing at Clark. He was still fast asleep, and though his arm tightened around me when I shifted, he showed no signs of waking up. A smile traced my lips even before memories of the night before came pouring back into my mind.

A knock at the door—a pounding that indicated it wasn't the first time whoever it was had knocked—answered the question as to what had woken me. Strangely, I didn't feel impatient to find out who it was or nervous about who it might be. Maybe, I thought as I gingerly extricated myself from Clark's drowsy embrace, it was because I knew Luthor—and his fake Superman—were gone.

I straightened my clothes, glad the flannel bottoms and long-sleeved shirt I was wearing could pass as casual wear, and stepped into the living room. I closed the bedroom door behind me so the visitor wouldn't wake Clark—or catch sight of his wounded, exhausted form.

"Perry!" I exclaimed in surprise when I unlocked and pulled open the door.

"Lois," my editor replied carefully. His sharp eyes were intent on me, a quick glance taking me in from head to toe. I belatedly hoped nothing of my encounter with Luthor and the clone showed.

"What are you doing here?" I asked cautiously.

He cocked his head. "Henderson called. He said you and Clark weren't answering the phone and he was worried about you both. I said I'd check on you. So?"

"So?" I repeated, drawing the syllable out. "Why did Henderson call?"

Perry's eyes narrowed. "Do you want me to discuss this out in the hall?"

Tamping down on my nervousness, I realized there was no way I could avoid this encounter. "Come in," I invited, hoping I wouldn't regret it. I shot a quick glance toward the bedroom, but knew there would be no help coming from that quarter.

"Where's Clark?" Perry asked bluntly, seemingly unwilling to take a seat, instead standing in the center of the living room. "Is he all right?"

"Well…" Another glance toward the bedroom steeled my nerves. "He hasn't been feeling well since yesterday morning when Luthor's man tried to pass himself off as a cop. He got sick during the night; I've been taking care of him. We were both sleeping this morning, however, which is probably why we didn't hear Henderson's call."

Ha! I thought triumphantly, my worry and nervousness about lying for Clark's enormous secret disbanded. There was quite a bit of truth in my statement—in fact, everything I had said was, strictly speaking, true—something I thought Clark, with his disapproval of even white lies, would probably appreciate. More, I had managed to spin the story without once shifting my weight or pausing to choose my words or looking stubbornly off into the distance, a feat Clark certainly couldn't manage.

"Hmm." Perry nodded. "Very interesting. I'll be sure to let Henderson know what's going on, of course, and tell him what you said."

"Okay," I said, a bit mystified by the Chief's completely matter-of-fact tone and his apparent lack of interest in the page-one story we had "missed" by sleeping through Henderson's call.

"I guess I should let you get some sleep." Perry took a step past me, then paused and lifted a finger as if he had just remembered something, his other hand digging into his coat pocket. "Oh, I should probably give you these. He might need them."

I froze at the sight of Clark's glasses in Perry's hand. The lenses were cracked and stained with soot; one of the arms was melted and deformed.

"Of course," Perry continued musingly, smugly confident that he had my full attention, "the story about how I found these here glasses is quite interesting. You see, when Henderson called, he thought you and Clark might have been caught in a weird explosion in the Steelworks factory that also, coincidentally enough, involved Lex Luthor. Well, naturally, I ran right down there to see what was going on. Since Jimmy's staying at my place, he decided to come too. A good thing, actually, seein' as how he caught sight of this particular pair of glasses in the ash of an active crime scene. Well, Lois," he spread his hands out innocently, "you know the laws against swiping evidence, but Jimmy thought Clark might want his glasses back, and I was…well, inclined to agree. So…" His eyes sharpened still further as he offered the glasses to me. "Care to try again tellin' me where you were very early this morning?"

The glasses were warm in my hand, and suddenly very, very heavy. This, I thought with an inward grimace, had to be why Clark had suggested we listen to the official story before coming up with our own. And yet…if I didn't plan on letting the whole world know Clark's personal story, the secret he had entrusted to me, I would have to learn how to do this convincingly—learn how to hide what amounted to another life altogether.

"Chief," I began, a bit haltingly before warming to my subject. "The thing is…Clark and I wanted the exclusive. And when Luthor called demanding that we get Superman to meet with him, we didn't want to risk contacting the police, not when we knew Superman would be able to arrest Luthor. But when we got there, Luthor was completely insane, raving on and on about how he was going to take down Superman, destroy Clark, and rule the world. Anyway, he…he ended up throwing himself in this enormous vat of melted steel, and…well, there was a resulting explosion. Superman protected Clark and I, but…he felt awful that he hadn't managed to save Luthor, and that piled on top of the fact that he thought he had let those men he tied up die in that fire a couple weeks ago—it's made him…it's made him reconsider whether he should continue helping or not. I don't know what he'll decide, but you know how people can turn against celebrities and heroes, so Clark and I decided to come back and write up the story before any wrong conclusions could be reached."

I held my breath as soon as I finished, then frowned in surprise when Perry smirked. "Much better," he approved. "Of course, I'm not saying that I know anything—officially or otherwise—and I'm not even going to pretend that I can unravel half of what's really happened, but I will tell you that that's the story I'd stick to if I were you."

My mouth hung open in shock as Perry turned and moved to the door. He paused with his hand on the knob, then turned to look at me, his expression softening in the way that had become habitual ever since I had, after witnessing a particularly nasty drive-by shooting during my internship, broken down in his office and cried against his shoulder. "And, Lois, darlin'…I'm proud of you. For helpin' him and bein' his friend. I have a feeling his life's not the easiest in the world, particularly lately."

"How—" I darted yet another glance toward the bedroom, fervently hoping Clark didn't know that, less than a day after I had learned it, I had already blown his secret. "How did you know?"

Perry paused for a long moment, probably deciding how much to reveal before he shrugged, settling his hands in his pockets. "I wondered about it when they both left Metropolis—Clark isn't the kind of man to leave so unexpectedly, particularly with the way he so obviously felt. Of course, when he and Superman were both standing in front of me, I dismissed it as a crazy hunch. But…I got a call yesterday. From his parents. Seems they saw the headlines about Superman and were…well, wonderin' if I had heard anything from Clark. They're a pretty cagey pair, but…it was enough to make me wonder. Enough to help me put the pieces together when Jimmy found his glasses there."

For a long moment, I remained silent, trapped by indecision, draining and immobilizing, and rising grief, terrible and violent. Perry regarded me steadily; it was the kindness in his eyes that was my undoing.

"Luthor cloned him," I whispered numbly, and strangely enough, it was only then that everything I should have been feeling earlier came tumbling through me with all the force of a destructive river crashing through the remnants of a dam and ripping away everything in its path. "He captured him, tortured him, and then stole his life—and I never knew! I never even thought—I never saw—I didn't even realize—I thought they were brothers—and how could he let me—he tried to tell me, but I—I kissed him, and he—"

With only a trace of awkwardness, Perry pulled me into a fatherly hug, and my rushed, disjointed words fell away as tears insisted on leaking from my eyes. For a moment, I leaned against Perry, let his clumsy, affectionate reassurances slow the tide of emotions within me, hold back the tiny, whispering doubts that hid in the shadows of my mind, and calm the sobs trying to erupt.

When I was finally strong enough to pull back from Perry's embrace, I gave him a tentative smile and wiped a few last tears away. Purposely keeping things light, Perry made some weak joke and a passing mention of Elvis before guiding me to the couch and sitting beside me. I hesitated only an instant before briefly telling Perry what had happened, some tiny part of myself relieved to be able to talk about the extraordinary events to someone besides the man at the center of them all.

Perry listened intently—his eyebrows arching in eloquent shock a few times—then nodded determinedly and said gruffly, "Let me write up this story—I'm not stealing the exclusive, mind you, just writing up the facts of last night. You and Clark need some rest before tackling the exposé."

I opened my mouth to argue, but it was only force of habit. More than anything, I longed for a day or two to allow these revelations to sink in, to comprehend the fact that Luthor and Su—the clone—were dead, to get to know Clark AKA Superman without all the misconceptions and lies and false assumptions. So I smiled, told Perry not to make a habit of stealing my stories, and inwardly relaxed, knowing without a doubt that he would never write anything to betray Clark.

Perry gave me another soft look while he was leaving, but I was grateful he didn't try to pull me into another hug. I didn't want to cry anymore; I wanted to figure my life out and not have it turned upside down immediately afterward.

So I walked back into the bedroom—mildly relieved to see that Clark hadn't stirred except to turn a bit more toward the healing light—and I sat on the edge of the bed, and I studied the man who was my partner. The man who was my hero.

And I purposely began to remember—from my first meeting with the farmboy from Kansas, to the explosive debut of Superman, to the early days of my growing friendship with "both" of them, to the day when they had both left Metropolis, to the night I was thrown into a cell and heard the familiar voice split the darkness into shards, to the night before when I had finally seen both men coalesce into one—purposely began to remember Clark and Superman in order to merge them together in my mind.

And I thought, very long and very hard, about what I wanted to happen next. I thought about my resolve not to hurt Clark. I thought about how hard it would be to lie to everyone I knew, to all my friends and family and every stranger in the world. I thought about the simple, beautiful life I had imagined living with Clark. I thought about my fantasies about Superman and flights around the world and to Caribbean beaches. I thought about the love and devotion I knew Clark would show me, and the stories I would have to cover up or lie about. About the scars Luthor had forced on Clark, and the light, fairy-like kisses Clark had rained down on me. About how blind I had been, and how scared Clark had been—maybe still was.

When Clark finally stirred and woke, long after my tangled thoughts had wrestled themselves to a conclusion, his sleep-darkened eyes fell immediately on me. A flurry of lightning-fast emotions passed across his features—awe, joy, surprise, wariness, and then that startling yet familiar blankness as he waited for me to speak. Waited for me to tell him what I thought before he spoke.

I tightened my arms around my knees, folded to my chest, but did not break his gaze. "Perry was here," I said calmly. "He's covering the story for us until we're ready to write the in-depth exclusive."

"Oh." Moving slowly, Clark sat up and tentatively leaned back against the headboard. He looked down at his hands before looking back to me. I watched him without blinking. "What are you doing?" he finally asked quietly, his brow furrowing.

"Looking at you," I replied with the hint of a smile. "At you, not through you."

By the brilliant shift of his features, I knew he understood me. Clark, after all, had never wanted to be invisible. At least…not to me.

Clark straightened his shoulders, as if bracing himself to pick up a burden he had temporarily dropped, and took a deep breath. "Lois, I need to explain that—"

"I think I can put all the pieces together," I interrupted, keeping my voice perfectly steady. The past hour of thought and memory made me confident I knew his story, or at least most of it.

"Okay," he said softly. Nervously, he twisted the bedspread between his hands, but he met my gaze evenly.

Though I had been preparing this speech since Perry left, I still paused to swallow and marshal my thoughts. "I saw all the boyhood pictures of you when we were in Smallville," I began, "so I'm assuming you arrived as a baby. The Kents must have found you and adopted you and hid your origins. Although, considering the fact that you said Bureau 39 had your ship and globe, I'm guessing that neither you nor your parents knew where you were originally from."

His tiny nod confirmed my suspicion. "I found out I was from Krypton the same day I told you."

I ignored his insertion, determined to stick to my script. "So, then, you grew up as any ordinary boy, believing yourself to be human. Hoping you were human. I don't know if you had powers the whole time or if you later developed them—"

"They started manifesting when I was ten," he interjected quietly.

"But you hid them," I continued, concealing the shock I felt no matter that I had guessed that. Forcibly, I shoved aside the image of a small boy with an unruly lock of hair struggling to come to terms with the fact that he could survive any hurt, lift any weight, and see through any obstacle. It was a strong image, though, and to ignore it, I had to focus almost desperately on the Clark in the present.

"You hid them," I said again, "because you were Clark Kent and Superman is just what you eventually decided to do with your powers."

He said nothing, so I went on, contemplating each phrase before I spoke it.

"After college, you wandered the world, looking for a place to belong, a place where you could fit in and be just Clark Kent. But you couldn't stop yourself from helping people, and so you always moved on, always hiding, always searching. You wanted to help—needed to help—but you needed to be Clark too. And Clark wanted to be an investigative journalist. So you came to Metropolis. To the Daily Planet. And you found yourself a job. And a partner." For the first time, my voice wobbled.

Clark's eyes were intent on me, searching desperately for some sign of what I felt. But I couldn't give anything away—not yet. I wanted to be sure I understood everything about him before I made another mistaken assumption. Wanted to be sure I was seeing the whole picture this time. Wanted to make sense of my life by making sense of his.

"For some reason," I began again, "you stayed in Metropolis. You found a way to hide who you really are even as you demonstrated to the world what you can really do. Out of all the places in the world you had visited, you chose Metropolis as your home—as Superman's home. But things grew more complicated when you—"

"Fell in love with you," he finished for me when my voice gave out. "Which was about two minutes after I met you."

Which answered the question of why he had chosen Metropolis as his home. But, again, I ignored him—I had to if I wanted to be able to finish my narration. "Right. You wanted to tell me, but you were afraid. Afraid I'd write the story. Afraid I'd hate you. Afraid I'd be hurt. Afraid I would betray you. Afraid I would never love the real you."

Tears were coming, hastened by the indescribable, spine-tingling, soul-shaking look on Clark's face, so I quickly moved on.

"The reason you left Metropolis at the same time as Superman is now painfully obvious." I forced a tiny chuckle, wincing when it came out sounding watery. "And you wandered the world again. Thinking yourself a danger to others yet unable to stop yourself from helping, you were once more a wanderer, an outcast. Only, this time, you kept looking back on the place you had left, calling Perry and Jimmy…and me. No matter what you had found out about your alien origins, you couldn't let go of Clark."

"I didn't want to let go," Clark murmured, almost to himself.

"Then…" I paused briefly, less sure about this next part. "You heard about Nightfall, and you went to Smallville—or maybe they're the ones who told you the news."

Clark shook his head. "I read your article, Lois, the one proving that I hadn't caused the heat-wave. I went home to tell Mom and Dad I was moving back to Metropolis. While I was there, we saw the news about the asteroid."

"And you went into space alone." I couldn't resist staring at him, trying to comprehend the magnitude of Superman's abilities—the depths of Clark's bravery. "I'm assuming this is when you got amnesia since there was almost a day between the shattering of Nightfall and the diversion of the large piece still headed toward Earth. You said your parents helped you, so you must have made it back to Smallville after your first try, and they tried to help you regain your memories and prove to you that you were Superman. After all," I added, almost bitterly, "the world was still in danger, and Superman was needed."

For a moment, I forgot what I was supposed to say next. Superman had been needed to save the world…but what about Clark? How could he have known that he was needed, too? That I had needed him?

"Yes," Clark said when I had been silent a moment. "I remembered everything in time to divert the remainder of the asteroid, but…" He trailed off, his eyes falling away, his hands clenching, unconsciously confirming my suspicions about what had come next.

"I would guess that Luthor had been following you since you left Metropolis at the same time as Superman," I said, smoothly returning to the script I had prepared. "He probably wanted to know what your link to Superman was. While you had amnesia, I'll bet his men threatened your parents and, in doing so, somehow discovered you were Superman. Something must have jogged your memory, and you hid your parents somewhere safe, and you flew back into space to deal with the remaining fragment."

"They tried to shoot Dad," Clark uttered hoarsely. "I had just started remembering a few things, and there was this one image of me catching bullets. When I got in between the men and Dad, they…they saw, and…well, I still hadn't remembered everything, so they managed to get away. When my memories did return, I knew I had to hide Mom and Dad just in case Luthor came after them."

I nodded, then shifted a bit. "This is the part I'm a bit foggy on. Was Luthor waiting in Smallville with the Kryptonite when you returned?"

"No." Clark looked down at his bandaged hands and consciously relaxed them. "I didn't go back to Smallville. I went to Metropolis." He looked up and caught my eyes, mutely pleading with me. "I was going to tell you everything, Lois, and beg you to help me stop Luthor before he could hurt Mom and Dad. But Luthor must have guessed what I was planning, or maybe he tracked me coming back from space. I don't know. I just know that he was there, outside your apartment building. When I landed, he…" Clark's jaw clenched painfully, and he closed his eyes, hiding from me whatever leaked through his stiff control. "When I woke up, I was in the cell."

My own eyes fluttered closed. He had been right outside my door, right on the doorstep—how had I missed that? How had I not been able to sense that he was there, that he was in pain, that he needed me? How could he have been so close when I was so far away?

Dragging my attention back to Clark's sudden silence, I took up the rest, though truthfully, I wasn't too certain about much of this part either. "While you were his prisoner, Luthor took samples of your DNA, and he hired some scientist or other to make the clone. And, because that's the kind of man Luthor was, he taunted you, and toyed with you, and tortured you. And he put a camera in your cell so the clone could observe you and learn how you moved and spoke and thought."

A muscle fluttered in Clark's jaw. "He would pose me hundreds of what-if scenarios and ask me what I would do. He'd make me answer him, even when I didn't want to. I…I didn't know he had the clone listening. I didn't know there was a clone."

"But there was," I concluded quietly. "And Luthor put me in the cell with you so the clone could see how we interacted. Then, because he was getting bored or because he wanted more power or because he was sick enough to find some pleasure in it, he took you aside and told you the rules of his 'game' before having his clone 'rescue' us. And he used me as the lock in your prison. You tried to tell me a hundred different ways, but I never saw it. I never opened my eyes and—"

"Hey." Clark reached out a hand toward me before letting it drop back into his lap. "You saw two different men standing in front of you, Lois—well, one was standing. The other was flying. You can't blame yourself for not immediately jumping to the conclusion that one of them was an alien and the other was a clone."

"That did complicate things," I conceded with a grimace. I had tried to hate myself for falling for his trick—and I was certainly annoyed that I hadn't realized Clark was Superman before he ever left Metropolis—but the truth was that I didn't see how I could have realized "Superman" was the double of my partner any more quickly than I had. Despite my own conviction, however, it was more of a relief than I wanted to admit that Clark didn't seem to blame me either.

"But, Clark..." My brow wrinkled with my confusion. "There's just one thing I'm confused about. Your letter—did you know I would read it? Were you so sure I would find it? And if you did it on purpose, why didn't you just spell everything out clearly? Why did you leave it so vague?"

"Lois…" The bed shifted when Clark swung his legs over the side and stood, and I had to put out a hand to keep my balance. I froze, however, when Clark turned back to look down at me, remembered fear painting shadows over the features the sun illuminated as he gestured to match his impassioned words. "I was so frustrated and desperate and…and scared. Luthor had promised to kill you if I told you I was Superman, but I couldn't just…just sit by and watch his game play out! You don't know how hard it was to leave Metropolis during the heat-wave—to leave the job I had always wanted and the friends I had made…and you." His hands fell back to his sides, his gaze going to the window.

"After Nightfall, I made the decision to tell you, Lois, and it was the most…freeing…decision I had ever made. But then Luthor…and to sit there and not be able to say anything and watch the clone…" He closed his eyes and took a shaky breath. "We had had the news on all day that day, and even though nobody else seemed to notice, I could tell he was having trouble controlling his powers. When he flew me to Lex Tower's roof to deliver Luthor's commands and warnings, his grip tightened far too much whenever his emotions got the best of him. He could control it, mostly, but only when he wasn't in pain."

"In pain?" I repeated. After the mudslide, I remembered, the clone had looked as if he were hurting, and again when I had asked him Clark's questions, and the night before when I had begged Clark to leave so I could use the Kryptonite. "What was wrong with him?"

Clark shrugged, almost casually, but I knew him too well not to see the pain he was inexpertly concealing. "I'm not human, Lois, even if I look it. Whatever their cloning method was, it couldn't support Kryptonian genes. He was dying."

Slowly, cautiously, I stood, my script almost entirely forgotten. I moved around the bed so that I could study Clark's closed expression. "He helped us last night," I observed neutrally.

"Yes." Clark ran a hand back through his hair, tousling it. He looked achingly vulnerable at that moment, standing there alone, barefoot, slightly disheveled, his face bare of any disguise, slight burn marks crisscrossing his palms. "He wasn't all bad, Lois. All he knew was Luthor. Can you imagine being raised by that monster? He…he wanted to do right, Lois. He just didn't know what that was."

"He seemed to know at the end," I said, stretching the truth just a bit for Clark's sake. He seemed oddly sorrowful about the death of the man who had replaced him, which was just so Clark-like that I almost smiled.

"I was trying to teach him," Clark admitted, oblivious to my thoughts. "He didn't know you would get hurt, Lois. After that first incident with Nigel, he even refused to help Luthor unless you were kept safe. I can't help but feel bad for him. He…he was trying so hard. There was some good in him," he insisted stubbornly, seemingly convinced that I would argue with his conclusion.

"Of course there was," I agreed firmly, shoving aside my own qualms about the man who had made sure to kiss me in front of Clark, who had flaunted his powers before him, who had used me as a means of intimidation, torture, and observation…and the man who had taken pity on Clark and flown with him, who had wanted me to tell him—what? that he was good? that he didn't have to do what Luthor had wanted—and the man who had sacrificed his own life to save me.

"There was good in him," I told Clark. "But I never doubted that. As you said in your letter—there must have been something of you in him."

Clark opened his mouth as if to speak, but no words emerged; he simply stared at me.

"So you didn't know I'd find the letter?" I prompted.

Shaking his head a bit, as if to clear his thoughts, he shrugged self-consciously. "I…hoped…you would find it. But I didn't know for sure if you would. I wasn't even sure if I wanted you to or not. I was afraid that if I simply told you everything, you would insist on confronting Luthor or blurt out something that would let Luthor know I had violated his rules. And when I was writing it, I just…I just wrote what I was thinking." He let out a mirthless chuckle. "The next morning, at first, I was sure you had found it, but you never said anything, so I…I decided you hadn't."

"I did find it—I just didn't know what to think of it," I admitted, hating the flush I could feel staining my cheeks. Luthor's spiteful words rang once more through my mind. "I didn't mean to ignore it, Clark. It's just that…there were so many other startling revelations happening at the same time," I finished a bit lamely, unable—with him staring directly at me, so earnest and curious—to explain that I had been too taken aback by the love so blatant between every line of the letter to focus on the revelation to which he had been trying to lead me.

"have a question," Clark said, almost timidly. "You…you said you knew my secret. You said you knew what Luthor had taken from me. But then…you…you didn't know that I was Superman. So…what secret did you know?"

Looking at him now, I was reminded of all the reasons I hadn't guessed that he was the all-powerful superhero. He was so uncertain, so helpless in some aspects, so innocent, so…human. "I thought he was your brother," I said simply, unable to find any embarrassment in the admission. "The things you both said, the way you acted together…I thought the reason I had never seen you together before was because you didn't want anyone to notice how similar you both looked, and that you ran from danger to avoid revealing that you were invulnerable, and that he was working for Luthor in exchange for your freedom and continued safety."

I darted a glance at Clark from beneath my lashes and caught an amused smile playing along his lips before he hastily sobered. "Well," he said, the smile evident in his voice only because I had seen it on his face, "I did kind of think of the clone as a brother." A flash of sorrow streaked through his eyes. "He was learning, and he…he could have been someone Superman could talk to. Someone he could share problems like Nightfall with. Someone who could be his friend."

The beginnings of hurt disappointment settled like a stone in the pit of my stomach. Carefully concealing that reaction, I sat down on the edge of the bed. "So, Clark." I looked up at him as I returned to my forgotten script. "I told you your story. Do you think you can tell me mine?"

Instantly, Clark was wary, uncertain, tentative…and patiently hopeful. Cautiously, probably afraid I might bolt, he sat beside me, regarding me intently. "Yes," he said hoarsely, then cleared his throat. "You were born into a family that didn't understand your inner brilliance, didn't know how to cope with the extraordinary strength and intelligence that radiated outward from you, didn't take the time to appreciate your natural beauty. As a result, you were hurt when you were young, and then again later when a man stole your innocence and your story. But you didn't allow those betrayals to break you; you forced them to make you stronger. You determined to be the best that you could be—and you succeeded. You rose to the top of your field, proved that you truly were extraordinary, demanded that the world be a better place, and outshone all the other lights in the sky."

I swallowed, unable to look away, unable to catch my breath. Surreptitiously, I blinked away the awed tears his words had elicited, the shock that he could possibly see me the way he described me.

"But you were lonely," Clark continued, his compassionate insight—not his x-ray vision—seeing to the depths of my soul. "And you wanted to find someone you could trust. Someone who would prove that the bad things that had happened to you weren't the norm, weren't what you should have to expect. Someone who would accept you wholeheartedly, someone with whom you could belong. Someone with whom you could be yourself." He paused, maybe realizing, as I was, just how much of his own dreams he was verbalizing. "And then, simultaneously, two men came into your life. One seemed to be too good to be true and the other—"

"Was dangerously compelling," I said when he stopped to search for words.

Clark's eyes widened, but after a slight hesitation, he continued. "You were drawn to the hero, hoping he would right the wrongs in your life and prove that the cynicism you had adopted wasn't necessary. You began to trust your partner, surprised when you found that you could be a good friend to others. But…" He swallowed, finally looking away. "But they both broke their promises and left you all alone."

"And then?" I asked after a moment.

"And then you struggled on, refusing to give up or give in, refusing to let the world pass you by. You stubbornly, radiantly fought to make your own world better without the aid of a hero or a partner. And when they both came back, one seemed too hurt to fix and the other still seemed too good to be true."

"Yes," I murmured, and was sure he was confused about which description he fit.

"You felt that things were going to be better now. But gradually, you found that nothing was as it seemed. And"—he bent his head, his shoulders slumped—"just as you decided to give your heart to me, you found out I had lied again—lied about everything."

"And then?" I prompted gently, swallowing back my protest over his conclusion and finally understanding the reason behind the shadow that had earlier darkened his features. "What happens next?

He closed his eyes. "I don't know."

"Come on, Clark." I scooted nearer him, brushed a hand over his. "You've read my mind before—read it again."

"I don't know, Lois." He opened his eyes and looked at me, allowed me to see the depths of his emotions: the hope he could never quash…the fear that his hopes would once more be dashed. "I hope your story has room for me in it. I hope I can be the man you were looking for. I hope you can accept a Superman who's really just an ordinary man and an ordinary man who's really an extraterrestrial with extraordinary powers. I hope all those things, but…I don't know what you want."

I moved my hand to rest on his chest, slid it up higher to his shoulder, turned him to face me more fully so I could put my other hand on his opposite shoulder. The stone in my stomach had disappeared, vanished so quickly that I felt lightheaded. "Clark, you said in your letter that hope was the only power you had left. I'll tell you the only secret I have left—it's the most powerful ability you possess."

And I kissed him, my lips brushing his gently, tenderly. His arms enveloped me immediately, instinctively. "Lois," he breathed and he pulled me closer, slanting his mouth over mine.

"I love you, Clark," I assured him, now certain all over again of the truth of that statement. Certain that I was making the right decision. Certain that I was in the dark no longer. Certain that I wanted to bask in his light—and give him my own light and warmth in return—for the rest of my life.

"Even after I left you?" he asked as he stole another kiss. My eyes were closed, but I could feel him smile against my mouth, and I gasped at the sensation of feeling a smile rather than seeing it.

"You came back," I murmured past the fireworks sparkling in my stomach and the liquid heat flowing through my veins. I looped my arms around his neck, wanting to draw closer to him, and we tumbled back on the bed, our limbs and hearts and lives all tangled together.

"Even after I lied?" he questioned with another kiss, this one even more potent than the last.

"You confessed." I couldn't help but laugh a bit, knowing he only wanted to hear me say the words again, teasing him with the answers even while knowing he needed to hear the truth of them.

At my laugh, he brought a bandaged hand to the back of my head to weave his fingers through my hair, tilting my head into his kiss. "Even though you deserve someone better?"

If his kisses hadn't been distracting me, I would have laughed aloud at the very thought of someone better than him. "That's impossible!" I asserted fiercely.

His mouth covered mine, and he rolled over onto me with a laugh, a sound that thrilled me as much as his tender kiss. "Lois, that statement proves there's a fine line between brilliance and lunacy!"

Suddenly serious, feeling the importance of this moment, I drew back and looked up at him, my hands threaded through the hair at the back of his neck. "Clark," I said, somberly though my eyes shone with a light that rivaled the early afternoon sunlight entranced with our happiness and laughing at us from above. "This…this is the most brilliant moment in my whole life."

And Clark smiled at me, and he kissed me, and all the darkness vanished before the light brilliant enough to flood the whole of my universe.

And Then There Was Light

A Lois & Clark Story
by Anti-Kryptonite

Part 22 of 23

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