Continuing Tales

And Then There Was Light

A Lois & Clark Story
by Anti-Kryptonite

Part 3 of 23

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"It'll be all right, Lois. Look, your blindfold will work to bind the bullet wound—it only grazed you, thank God. And you say optimism is self-delusion; we're not that badly off. You'll see. Everything will be all right. It'll be okay. You have to be okay."

I had always hated coming out of unconsciousness. I disliked feeling disoriented and confused and ignorant of the situation. But then, I had never come out of unconsciousness to the sound of a smoky voice whispering my name as if it were the rarest of treasures and the feel of strong hands cradling me to a broad chest. If I had always woken up like this, I might have decided it was a very pleasant habit to develop.

That theory lasted until a sharp pain sliced through my shoulder and sent lights flashing across my vision, though I was relatively certain I had my eyes closed.

"I'm sorry. There, it's done—I just had to reset your shoulder, that's all. I'm sorry, Lois."

I drifted in and out. Every time I halfway woke up, I heard Clark talking to me, his words sometimes blurring together, other times clear and meaningful. Several times, I tried to open my eyes or speak, but I could never make my body do as I wanted it to. Whenever I grew too frustrated with my inability to do as I wished, pain would shriek and scold me and I would fall back into the darkness I was beginning to despise.

I was vaguely aware that I was leaning against something paradoxically soft and firm, something that rose and fell in a comforting rhythm, something that was warm and welcoming. Hands stroked my cheek, or my hair, or my shoulder, never so insistent that I grew afraid, never so tight that I felt claustrophobic, never so impersonal that I felt alone. And the voice…the voice continued to weave a spell around me, convincing me that it was safe to wake up, reassuring me that I was not alone, promising things I had never thought I wanted yet now craved.

"Oh, Lois, please. You don't know how much I wanted to see you again…but not like this. I wish I could get you out of here, but—" I twisted uncomfortably, shaken by the choked harshness of his voice, and instantly his hand smoothed over my cheek and his arm gathered me closer to himself. "It's all right. We'll find a way out somehow. I shouldn't have left you—I know that now. I just couldn't see any other option. Superman was always in the way, and after what happened in Metropolis, there was nothing I could do to change that. Now, though…now, I don't care anymore. I just have to get you out of here. You deserve to be free and happy and safe—I'd do anything if I could give you all those things."

The flow of words continued, bathing me in their dreams of a better tomorrow and wrapping me in the security of his care for me. At any other time, I might have been vastly uncomfortable to hear the blatant emotion in his voice and listen to the dreams so carelessly exposed, but for now, they comforted me and drowned out the pain waiting for me whenever I was foolish enough to drift toward the waking world.

When consciousness finally grew so demanding I couldn't deny it any longer, I cautiously opened my eyes. Surprisingly, I realized that the pain I had been expecting wasn't enveloping me in its dizzying embrace. My left arm ached and my shoulder was sore when I tentatively moved it, but other than that, the agony I remembered from my ill-fated escape attempt had been consigned to the past. Healed by Clark's concern, attention, and words, I realized. He had always been able to affect me in ways that I swore were impossible.

But then, Superman had, too—and I hadn't even bothered to fight those feelings.

"Hey." Clark's voice was soft and gentle in my ear, and only when I heard it did I realize that his chest was my pillow, his arm was my anchor, his jacket was my blanket, and his hand was the pleasurable movement that was sliding my hair back from my face. I had never before woken up beside anyone else—at least, not unless I counted my sister—and I was startled to find that I wasn't intimidated by, enraged at, or fearful of finding him so close to me.

Extenuating circumstances, I told myself sternly. When we got out of this cell, things would be different. I couldn't afford to depend on anyone else too much, not when they might walk away at any moment. I couldn't allow myself to grow close to anyone, not when I had let Superman fly away thinking he was responsible for Lex's crime. Not when I had let Clark rot in this cell just because I couldn't be bothered to ask after him.

"How are you feeling?" he asked.

Gingerly, I sat up, supported by his hands, and moved my left arm experimentally. "I think I'm all right. The bullet grazed me?"

"Yeah, and you're banged up a bit. Did…" He hesitated, and I wondered at how easily I read him despite the blackness hiding him from me. I could practically sense his discomfort, his uncertainty, and his overwhelming concern. "Did he hurt you?"

"I tried to get away," I said succinctly. "The stairs weren't happy when I dived down them to escape Nigel's bullet."

"Oh." The word conveyed a wealth of emotion, too much for me to dwell on without a cup of coffee.

"How long have I been out?"

"I don't know. They haven't come to dose me again yet, so it's been less than a day. Maybe only six or seven hours."

"That long?" I asked, surprised despite myself.

"Are you sure you're all right?" he pressed, and the tenderness apparent in his voice made me remember in greater detail all the things he had murmured while thinking I was unconscious. Suddenly uncomfortable, I shifted on the cold ground, inexplicably discomfited when his hand warmed my back in a supporting gesture.

"I'm as fine as I can be after being kidnapped and shot," I said with a shrug he couldn't see and forced myself to rise to my feet, clutching his jacket to keep it on my shoulders. Again surprisingly, I wasn't assailed by the dizziness I halfway expected. What was it about Clark that made everything turn out so much better than reality dictated it could? Not that there was anything good about our situation now, I realized dismally.

"They left some food a while ago," Clark said softly, making me feel guilty for my false bravado. All right, I admitted silently, so he had left me, but we were in a bad place, and I should be more concerned about how we were going to get out of here before Lex decided to dose him again rather than making Clark think I had done perfectly all right without him as a partner.

"Some food?" I belatedly realized that I had fallen back into the habit of repeating everything he said.

"It's by the door."

When I bent and cautiously reached outward toward the cold metal, I felt a bowl of something, room temperature, not nearly as heavy as it probably should have been for a full day's meal. A bit more blind questing revealed a cup of water next to it. I picked them both up, then frowned and turned back in Clark's direction. The pitch blackness around us made it seem as if we were enveloped by a void, a tiny hole in both time and space that was ours alone.

"They already cleared away your dishes?" I already knew the answer, of course, but I wished desperately—for his sake—that I was wrong.

He was silent for a long moment before saying, "That was all they gave us."

I didn't know what to say. There were so many options. I wanted to ask him how, as malnourished as he obviously was, he had been able to leave sustenance lying around while he took care of me. I wanted to demand that he stop being so noble and self-sacrificing so that I didn't have to feel so guilty for leaving him in this cell for so long. I wanted to break down into tears and hug him and tell him that I would take care of him from now on.

But I didn't do any of those things. Instead, I walked back over to him, gingerly sat down beside him, and said, very slowly and more gently than I had thought myself capable of: "Then we'll share."

"Lois, I—"

"You're not going to go all macho on me, are you?" I questioned, a warning note in my voice.

"No," he replied meekly. A wise man, I thought with satisfaction; that was something else about him I had missed—his ability to know when to agree with me.

"You eat first," I insisted.

It was harder than it seemed just to hand over the bowl. The complete darkness that surrounded us, the way Clark's hands were trembling uncontrollably, and my own awkwardness with the whole situation—it all made the trade-off complicated. But eventually we managed it, and I listened closely to make certain Clark really was eating whatever was in the bowl.

"I know why you wanted me to eat first," he said after a moment.

"Why's that?" I tried, unsuccessfully, to peer through the darkness and make sure he really was eating. Though I still hadn't caught a good look at him in the light, his hug and the way he had held me as I slept had provided proof enough that he needed the food a lot more than I did.

"You just wanted to make sure there were no adverse side effects to eating it. Kind of your own personal taste-tester."

I couldn't help but smile at that teasing note in his voice, the one I would swear I'd hate and yet loved. "That's right, Kent. And how are you feeling? Any stomach twinges? Choking? Signs of death?"

"No," he said thoughtfully. "I think you're safe to eat it."

"Really?" Accepting the bowl when he handed it back to me, I dubiously used a finger to scoop out a bit of what felt kind of like the oatmeal I cooked and stuck it in my mouth. Immediately, I gagged and had to fight not to spit the food back out. "Yuck!" I exclaimed. "How did you eat this? And you claim this isn't poison?"

"I guess I have a strong constitution," he said, and I frowned at the hollowness apparent in the tone of his voice.

"Well." I forced a cheerful tone into my voice—luckily for me, undercover work developed good acting skills. "You must. You've actually managed to choke down some of my cooking before."

"All in the line of duty," he replied. This time, it didn't take a mind-reader to realize why he sounded so wistful. Even my cooking and the most dangerous story we had ever chased had to be better than our current predicament.

No matter how awful the oatmeal—or whatever it was supposed to be—tasted, I forced myself to choke back the little bit Clark had left. From what I could feel in the bowl, I was pretty sure he had eaten at least half of it. If I had thought I had a chance of convincing him, I would have tried to make him finish the entire bowl, but I knew Clark was far too chivalrous to ever let me get away with it.

"Here." I held out the cup of water after washing down the last of the oatmeal. Clark accepted the cup and took a few sips before handing it back to me. "Are you sure you don't need any more?" I asked, surprised by how little he had drank.

"I'm fine," he said. "I don't need much water."

"What are they dosing you with?" I choked out through sudden dread, abruptly reminded of the awful agony he had clearly been in when I'd seen him in that surveillance video. And if it was stealing his appetite from him…terror suddenly ruled my tongue. "It can't be good for you! What if it's killing you?"

"It is," he told me, his voice perfectly even, betraying no horror at the implications of his own remark. "But Luthor will make certain he doesn't give me enough to permanently end it."

The resignation and hatred in his tone almost deafened me, freezing me to the spot of ground on which I sat. Finally, I swallowed to work some moisture back into my mouth and leaned forward. "That's not what you want, is it, Clark? You're not giving up, are you?" My own hands trembled almost as much as his as I blindly reached out toward him and clutched folds of his ragged shirt.

"No," he said quietly. He placed his reassuring hands over mine, pressing them closely to his chest. "Maybe I was before you came. But now…we have to find a way to get you out."

"I wish Superman were here," I murmured, clenching my hands into fists beneath his soft touch. "He could get us out."

Clark withdrew his hands and slowly stood. When he spoke, I could tell that he had his back turned to me. "I wish he were here too, Lois. But he's not."

I felt as if he had hit me. It wasn't the words, or even the fact that he had his back to me—no, it was the awful, crushing disappointment and—humiliation?—evident in his voice. A moment ago, I had marveled at how easily I read him in the darkness; now I wished I could understand what I read. But I couldn't. It was as if he spoke in a foreign language, the words familiar but incomprehensible to me. Or rather, the words were intelligible, but the motive and emotion behind them baffled me.

"Clark—" I was interrupted by the sound of the door opening and a wash of jagged light that split our cell into bleak shards and stabbed knives of agony into my deprived eyes.

Jumping to my feet, I moved to stand between the silhouette in the threshold and Clark. I didn't want to see him writhing in pain again, didn't want to feel the madness emerge from behind his compassionate demeanor, didn't want to hear him making those small exclamations of pain. His hands on my waist, trying to pull me back with him, sent a rush of fond affection through me. He was always thinking of me, always trying to protect me, always there for me. Well, this time, I determined, I would be there for him.

"What do you want?" I questioned harshly.

The silhouette stepped forward and resolved into Luthor. Behind him, a larger form moved into view—I guessed it to be Nigel.

"Oh, I think we've concluded our discussions, Ms. Lane." Lex cocked his head slightly as he looked behind me. "I've come to invite Mr. Kent to talk about a business proposition. I think you'll be very interested in hearing what I have to say, Clark."

"No." My denial was useless. Even assuming we had a choice in the matter, I knew it wasn't my decision. And we didn't have a choice at all. The box Lex pulled from his pocket, the gun held in Nigel's hands, the thugs doubtlessly waiting outside the doorway—it all added up to a big fat no-win situation.

Clark's hands fell away from me as he slowly moved toward Luthor. I wanted to grab him back and protect him, particularly when the light revealed that his shoulders were rounded in defeat. But I was powerless, and so Lex took Clark's arm and led him out of the cell. When Clark became nothing more than a shadow, limned in cold, merciless light, I took an impotent step forward only to have the door slammed in my face.

"Clark!" I whispered.

There was no response.

I tried to keep track of the time, but it was useless. Though I still wore my watch, I couldn't see it. That seemed to be the story of my life: things I needed were right next to me, but I could never see them. They were always just out of reach, just out of sight, just out of my understanding. And thus, out of my life. Superman was the only thing I had seen and understood and tried to grasp…and that hadn't turned out well.

Squeezing my eyes shut against the memories of the unbelievable superhero, dreading the inevitable conclusion to those thoughts, I paced back and forth. When I could find no other alternative, I put the bucket to good use, glad the surveillance camera Luthor used had been lit only by the light outside the cell and reluctantly thinking that Clark's absence had one advantageous benefit.

It was surely an hour before I heard voices outside the door again, though I grudgingly had to admit that it might not have been that long. Regardless, it seemed an eternity since Luthor had led a cowed Clark away, and I was terrified about what shape my partner would be in when they returned him to me.

If they returned him to me.

Horrified by that thought—and its likelihood—I pressed myself back against the wall, as far away from the door as I could get. Tears stung my eyes; furiously, I blinked them back.

The door squeaked yet again as it was unlocked and pulled ajar. When it was fully open, the two thugs from earlier stepped forward. They were dragging a body between them. As soon as they had carelessly tossed Clark to the ground, they locked us, once more, in our tiny cell.

I fell to my knees, then bit back a cry of pain when my attempt to roll Clark onto his back reminded me of the gunshot wound in my arm. "Clark!" I cried, finally getting him onto his back. "Clark, are you all right? Please, Clark, please, answer me! Did they dose you again? Is this what always happens?"

"Lois?" His voice was weak, the simple word slurred almost beyond recognition.

"I'm here, Clark," I managed to say past my tears. "I'm here."

"Not a dream," he whispered, and my breath caught in my throat when his fingers lightly skimmed along my cheek. "You're real."

"I am," I breathed, turning my face into his palm. Reminded of the jacket slung around my shoulders, I arranged it into a bundle, then slipped it under Clark's head, trying to make him comfortable in one of the very few ways open to me, grimacing when he whimpered in pain as I moved him.

Clark didn't respond to my touches or further questions, and his head lolled limply in my hands. His skin was cold to the touch, almost deathly so, and the rattling that infused his uneven breaths sent skitters of terror scampering through my veins. Trying to warm him and reassure myself at the same time, I stretched myself out beside him, rubbing at his arms in an attempt to drive the chill from him.

I wanted to murmur soothing sentences, wanted to reveal dreams and stir hope within him as he had done for me, but words had abandoned me. I dealt in words every day, fashioning them into sentences that proclaimed the truth and ensured justice was served and saw that I received a regular paycheck, and yet now, when Clark most needed them, I couldn't think of anything to say. All I had was his name, and I couldn't seem to stop repeating it over and over again, as if it were a talisman that would see us both safely back where we belonged—together at the Planet.

It seemed to take forever before his skin warmed a bit and his breathing steadied. He moved to wrap his arms around me just as he had done so many times before, and yet…and yet this time, his embrace seemed to me to be more of a cry for comfort than a reassuring gesture.

From somewhere deep inside me, I dredged up a few words to give him. "It'll be all right, Clark," I said, and hated that the unsteadiness of my voice made me sound uncertain, tainting the gift of my assurance.

"I wish I could save you," he told me in a pale voice, almost childlike in his simple honesty. "I wish I could be Superman for you."

"It's all right," I told him even though it wasn't. Clark's selfless wish only served to remind me how much I had to answer for.

"You're crying!" The surprised note in his strained voice was my undoing. The tears that had slipped past my control turned into full-fledged sobs. "Lois, please, please, don't cry."

Clark's plea and the way he pulled me into a clumsy hug despite his own weakness and pain only made me weep harder. Lois Lane didn't fall apart, but I didn't think I was Lois Lane anymore. In fact, I was pretty sure Lois Lane had died two months ago and been buried three weeks ago, resting side by side with the remnants of a red cape adorned with a yellow S.

"I'm sorry," I gasped out through sobs. "This is all my fault! I'm so sorry, Clark."

"No, Lois. Shh, it's not your fault."

"Yes, it is!" I insisted, tearing myself free of his weak hold—suffocating because of the undeserved forgiveness it offered me. "It's my fault Superman isn't here! My fault he left Metropolis! My fault he's dead!"

Stunned silence was my only reply, and my sobs sounded eerily loud within the confines of the cell.

"Superman's dead?" Clark finally uttered, his voice a pale shadow without the customary confidence or concern that usually imbued it.

And suddenly the timeframe of his disappearance hit me like a load of bricks. Clark had been missing one month, his last call just shortly before the Nightfall asteroid had been discovered hurtling toward Earth in a shower of fire and doom. And Superman…well, we hadn't found his remains until almost five days after the asteroid had mysteriously changed course.

Clark hadn't known.

"Clark…" Now that I could fully explain how much of this was my doing, all my words and confessions had withered away. I put out a hand and moved it across his body until I found his brow, then smoothed the sweat-dampened hair back. "Clark, there was an asteroid. It—"

"I know that."

"Superman knocked it away from Earth."

"How do you know it was Superman?"

My hand retraced its path to rest on Clark's brow, not surprised it felt hot since he had just asked such a stupid question. He must be even more out of it than I had thought, and I regretted my outburst. He needed me to be strong right now, not break under the burden of guilt I had been carrying for what felt like eternity.

"Clark, asteroids don't just decide to break in two, then turn around and fly a different direction. The military say they tracked something moving at speeds only Superman could reach, headed toward Nightfall. And then…the asteroid passed us in pieces. But…" I wrapped my arms around myself, chilled from within by the gaping emptiness that had resided within me for so long now. Suddenly, I regretted divesting myself of the comfort of Clark's jacket, as if the simple fabric of his coat could warm me simply because it was his. "But Superman died doing it. Jimmy found a crater, and all that was left were the remnants of his Suit and a trace of what forensics described as 'alien tissue.'" I had to clear my throat and hug myself tighter to finish. "They held a memorial service for him three weeks ago. We buried what we found in Centennial Park, by the fountain."

"Superman's dead." The bleak finality implicit in Clark's acceptance of that fact brought back my tears. "It's not your fault," he added, and what made it worse was that I knew he meant it.

"Yes, it is," I said tiredly. I had tried to explain it to Perry a dozen times, even tried to tell Jimmy, but none of them would admit what I knew to be the truth. Clark, however…

I wasn't stupid. I knew Clark liked me—a lot—knew that he had wished for more from me than I had to give him, but Superman had been his friend too. They had been so close that when Metropolis had demanded Superman leave, Clark had left as well, out of loyalty and a desire for justice and empathetic hurt. Maybe if Clark heard what I had done, he would see that it had been my fault. And if he admitted it…if he hated me, then I wouldn't have to hate myself anymore. I could let righteous anger and defensive hurt and outraged insult take the place of the guilt and shame and regret that were eating me alive.

"Dr. Goodman called and wanted to talk to me," I explained in a monotone voice, glad of the darkness that engulfed me in its concealing folds. "But I didn't go. I was too busy trying to find Superman and looking through old charts of weather patterns. After Superman left and the heat-wave completely disappeared, it just seemed pointless. Yet two weeks later, it was discovered that the Lexcorp Nuclear Plant had a leak that was causing insane heat to rise from the underground aqueducts. And Dr. Goodman had found out about it. If I had just gone and seen her—found out what she wanted—I could have stopped Superman from leaving. And then when Nightfall came, he wouldn't have had to fight it on his own. We could have helped him!"

"Are you saying it's my fault Superman's gone?"

I blinked, astonished by this reaction. Without conscious thought, my hands went automatically to his chest, a pseudo-embrace meant to convince him of my genuine shock. "What? No, of course not!"

"Instead of packing to leave Metropolis, I could have been investigating, too." Clark reached out and took my hand, his grip so weak that I felt an additional bolt of terror lance through my heart. "I could have gone and seen Dr. Goodman when you were too busy, or I could have looked at the Nuclear Plant, or I could have had Superman stay a bit longer while we double-checked his responsibility for the heat-wave. But I didn't. So it must be my fault that he's gone."

"Don't do that," I said with mock-irritation, unable to explain why Clark's stupid argument made me feel as if a burden had been lifted from my shoulders. "I hate it when you throw my own words back at me and make them sound irrational."

"Usually, you're brilliant," he said, the laugh that colored his tone making his voice beautiful. A laugh that was surely as much of a miracle as a rainbow suddenly appearing in our cell would have been. "But every once in a while, I remember there's a fine line between brilliance and lunacy. And the idea that you're responsible for Superman's…death…is definitely insane. You were the one who tried to save him, Lois. And for that, I will always be grateful."

"Well, you stuck by him when no one else did," I told him, clumsy at reassurance and comfort but compelled to make the effort. Wanting to make the effort…for him. "That counts for a lot."

His hand briefly tightened over mine. "Thank you, Lois."

"For what?" I asked.

"For being you," he replied simply.

Amazingly, despite my recent bout of tears and the locked cell door and the desperate pain Clark was obviously feeling, I found myself smiling. No one besides Clark had ever made me feel so happy to be myself; it was as if, to him, I could be nothing greater or better than Lois Lane.

And suddenly, like floodwaters released, all my words came pouring back into me. "I didn't feel much like me when you were gone," I confided quietly. The void of darkness surrounding us made my voice audible, but I truly believed that even if we had been surrounded by a raucous din, Clark would still have been able to hear the truth lacing my words. "I think…I think I forgot who I was when you left."

"I didn't forget," he said softly. "I could never forget you, Lois."

"I know that now," I replied, too little too late. "But I couldn't forget you either, Clark. In fact, I spent the last two months doing nothing but remembering you. Why don't we agree on something—I won't leave you if you won't leave me?"

Clark's breath caught in his throat, and it took me a panicked moment to realize he was reacting to my offer and not choking as a result of whatever Lex had done to him. "Okay." It was a whisper—not because he meant it to be, but because it was all he was capable of at the moment.

"Are you feeling any better yet?" I brushed a hand through his hair, startled yet again by the beard and the absence of glasses. I hadn't yet managed to catch a good glimpse of his face, so I still could only envision him the way he had been before leaving me.

His hand turned cold and limp, as if the reminder of his living nightmare replaced his blood with ice-water. "The dosage will start wearing off in twelve hours or so."

"What did Luthor want?" I asked, careful to use the right name.

He was silent so long that I was half-afraid he had fallen out of consciousness, but finally he responded. "He wanted me to know just what sort of life I have left."

A dozen questions sat in my mouth like breath-mints, but I swallowed them all back. Clark didn't need questions right now; he needed comfort. So I slid down next to him and rested my head on his chest. "We'll find a way out of here," I promised, responding to the hopelessness in his tone rather than the words he had spoken. "I've had a bit of experience with this kind of thing, Clark. Everything will turn out all right."

Clark's arms tightened around me, but he said nothing—no optimistic reassurance, no light joke, no caring remark, nothing. And that, more than anything else in the past twenty-four hours, terrified me.

Chilled, I pressed closer to Clark and willed the sound of his heartbeat to drive all the darkness away.

And Then There Was Light

A Lois & Clark Story
by Anti-Kryptonite

Part 3 of 23

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