Continuing Tales

And Then There Was Light

A Lois & Clark Story
by Anti-Kryptonite

Part 4 of 23

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"Help me stand, please."

To the accompanying sound of someone coming toward the door, I pushed my arm under Clark's shoulder and lifted upward, surprised by how much he weighed despite the body mass he'd lost. Apparently, a day or two without much food was making me weaker than I'd have expected.

"He shouldn't be back so soon," I said, more to cover the silence of terror than to say anything. My stomach had contracted into a tight ball of dread at the thought of seeing Clark left even worse off than he was now. Whatever Lex had done to him the last time had, in my opinion, nearly killed him. What glimpses I had caught of him in weak, shuttered light always showed him to be pale and sickly. I knew, in my head, that Clark had been going through this for the last month, but I was terrified nonetheless that if Lex subjected him to another dose, my partner would end up dead.

This time, I resolved coldly, I would fight for Clark. If nothing else, I'd try to get rid of whatever was inside the box Lex had used to taunt Clark the first time he'd entered our cell.

Though Clark said nothing to my statement, I could feel his frame trembling against mine.

A terrible groaning sound issued from outside our cell, and then the heavy metal door was torn off those loud hinges and tossed lightly to the side.

My jaw was hanging open—not that I cared. My every thought—my entire being—was suddenly afire with hope. There was only one man I knew of who could tear that door off without the use of heavy machinery.

And there he was, standing silhouetted by the light issuing from the corridors behind him and shattering the darkness of our cell. Tall, proud, indomitable, larger than life, his cape swirling about him, his eyes instantly seeking and finding mine.

"Superman!" I gasped.

Clark went rigid in my arms.

"Lois." Somehow, the light curved around his body to highlight the small smile he gave me, so familiar that my heart stuttered and my breath caught. "Are you all right?"

"Yes, now that you're here." Without even realizing it, I had pulled myself free of Clark's tight grip and stepped toward my hero—returned to me from the grave.

"Come on, I have to get you out of here," he said, his voice as stern and strong as I remembered it. "Clark, I'll bet you're surprised to see me."

I looked behind me to take in Clark's reaction to seeing his friend once more, but the darkness, distorted by Superman's body, had pooled around him, leaving him cloaked in shadows, his expression a mystery.

"I can't believe you're all right, Superman!" I exclaimed when Clark said nothing, wondering if I was really brave enough to touch the caped man before me and risk splintering the beautiful dream.

"And rescuing you—just like always." He reached out and took my hand to lead me from the cell, his flesh warm and soft, infinitely gentle as he cradled my more vulnerable flesh next to his own.

Superman was alive.

As that fact sank into my being and resurrected Lois Lane from the grave where I had buried her, I found myself completely speechless for perhaps the first time in my life.

A quiet groan from behind reminded me that Clark needed me. Reluctantly, I pulled my hand free of Superman's and turned to support Clark. He looped his arm around me almost too tightly.

Superman looked at Clark and beckoned us both outside the cell. "Most of your kidnappers ran when they caught sight of me; the rest are tied up. However, we should probably leave as quickly as possible. I don't want to risk either of you getting hurt. I'll drop you both off at the hospital."

I looked up at my partner, frightened by his slow pace. After a month in that cell, he had to be in a rush to get out and yet he shuffled forward in tiny steps. And it wasn't only the effects of the dosing; it was almost as if he were afraid to step out of the shadows. "Take Clark first," I told Superman.

"No!" Clark's immediate—and vehement—denial startled me.

Superman simply looked at him, his expression indecipherable. "Don't worry, Clark," my superhero said softly, his voice as gentle as his touch. "I'll protect you—and your parents. It won't take me any time at all to get to Smallville."

Clark staggered and would have fallen if I hadn't hurriedly braced myself to support more of his weight. "Don't," he uttered hoarsely, his eyes locked on Superman's. "I'll protect them."

"Clark!" I snapped, horrified by his repudiation of our friend. Why wasn't he delirious with joy that Superman was actually here—just as we had both wished—and that he was rescuing us?

"I'm sure Superman will be busy with other things." Clark's gaze never wavered. A message seemed to pass between him and Superman, confirming my deep-rooted suspicion that the two men had always been closer than either admitted. "Anyway, Lois, Superman's strong enough to take us both to the hospital at the same time."

"Don't be ridiculous," I chastised him, caught between awe over Superman's return and horrified confusion at Clark's ambiguous attitude. Once more, I felt as if he were speaking a language I should understand but couldn't, as if I were missing a vital key. "You're hurt far worse than I am, and we're both bruised. It'd be more comfortable if he flew us separately."

"No." Clark's arm tightened around me, and I recognized his tone. It was the one he always got the very few times he refused absolutely to let me budge him. I had seen it when he had pretended we hadn't been in my father's office, when he had turned me in at the Metro Club—a particularly fast bit of thinking I hadn't really appreciated at the time—and when he had told me goodbye late one night in the newsroom. I hated that tone of his voice—hated it because there wasn't a single thing I could do to change it.

"It's okay, Lois," Superman offered politely. "He's right—I can take you both at the same time."

"It's safer," Clark added meaningfully, and I let out an exasperated breath.

"Here, Clark." Superman held out his left hand. My eyebrows rose when I saw what he was offering my partner.

His glasses.

"You might need these," Superman added.

For a long moment, Clark simply looked down at the frames. Then, oddly, he looked toward me, and I would have given up a hundred front page stories just to be able to brush the shadows away like curtains and see what expression he wore. Finally, he let out a resigned breath, reached out to take the glasses, and slipped them on his face. When he didn't even say thank you, I couldn't help but wonder what had happened to my courteous, polite partner.

My confusion didn't last long, though, not when Superman put his arm around me for the first time in over two months. I literally thought I might die from the excitement and happiness that overcame me.

For so long, I had been haunted by nightmares that Superman had died alone in the blackness of space, fighting an enemy even he couldn't escape from unscathed. I had blamed myself for not saving his reputation and seeing to it that he had the support he needed from the ground. I had feared that truth and justice and the dream for a better tomorrow had died with him.

Yet here he was, one arm around me and the other around a seemingly nervous Clark, all three pairs of our feet dangling as we took to the air. A hole in the warehouse ceiling that hadn't been there before gave us an exit out into the darkening skies. Any other detail was lost to me, drowned out by my hyper-awareness of the spandex beneath my cheek, the feel of the muscled arm around my waist, the sensation of Superman breathing against me, the way the air cradled me.

Superman was alive.

Later—I couldn't tell how much later—Superman descended and set Clark and me down just in front of a brightly lit hospital. I allowed my hands to linger on Superman's chest, prolonging the moment, a sharp contrast to the hasty, staggering steps Clark took to separate himself from the superhero.

Understanding hit me with the recollection of how terrified and antsy Clark had been on the plane trip to Smallville just before he had left me. Of course! Clark must be afraid of heights, or afraid of flying—was that two different fears, or were they the same thing? Regardless, I felt better knowing why Clark had been so reluctant to fly with Superman himself—and why he had wanted me to come with him. After all, he had held my hand the entire flight to Kansas, needing the emotional support.

And if he had needed it then, he would need it even more now.

I knew I should step immediately to his side, but I had made the mistake of looking directly into Superman's amazingly vibrant eyes and now I couldn't look away.

"I'm glad you're safe, Lois," Superman murmured softly as he stepped away from me, moving almost as slowly as I was. "I missed you."

I felt the smile light up my face and basked in the way it seemed to awake an answering brightness in Superman's eyes. "I missed you, too." I hoped he would reach out and touch my cheek as he had done before; that gesture had always reassured me that I, out of everyone on Earth, was special to him.

Instead, he cupped my shoulder with his long fingers. "I'll be watching out for you from the air to make sure no one attacks you."

"Thank you," I said, my voice breathless past the wide smile I couldn't erase or tame.

"Lois." Clark's voice behind me was so pained that I was finally able to break free of Superman's gaze. Hastily, even though stepping away from the superhero was the last thing I wanted to do, I turned from Superman to help Clark.

"I'll be watching from the air," Superman said again, louder this time, his eyes on Clark. "Be careful."

Clark winced then, and I placed my hand on his chest, trying to support him as best I could.

Only when Superman lifted into the air did I realize that I still had so much left to say to him. "Wait!" I called out, gratified when he paused to hover before me, an encouraging smile on his lips. "Uh…I'm delighted that you're back, but…we thought you had died stopping Nightfall. Is that why it took you so long to return? Were you hurt?"

Superman's eyes softened as he traced my features with his gaze. "I waited to make absolutely certain that I wasn't the one responsible for the heat-wave. I'm here to help, not hurt."

A strangled sound emerged from Clark's throat, but I couldn't let Superman go without asking him the question that had been repeating itself over and over in my mind since he had touched my hand and convinced me he was real.

"Are you staying? In Metropolis?"

His eyes flicked to Clark, then back to me. "Of course. I'm always around."

My heart skipped a beat. Was he saying what it sounded like he was saying? Had he really just promised me that he'd never be far away?

Then, with a tiny wave, Superman blurred into the sky and disappeared. Entranced, I stared after him, unable to look away despite the rasping quality of Clark's breath in my ear.

Letting out a sigh, Clark dropped his arm from my shoulders. Surprised, I turned to him, for the first time able to see the beard painting the lower half of his face, the glasses placed over shadowed eyes, the ragged, unkempt clothes that hung so loosely on his spare frame.

The bruises marring his features.

The old, dried blood staining his shirt.

He avoided my gaze and quietly said, "I'll wait for you out here."

I gaped at him, brought back to reality with a crash that jarred me with the knowledge of how badly off Clark was. "What? Clark, you need a doctor! Who knows what long-term effects whatever they were dosing you with will have! For all you know, you're addicted to it after a month of—"

"I'm not addicted to it. And I don't need a doctor. I'll be fine in a while, once it wears off. But if you want to go in, I'll wait for you."

"Clark!" I paused and took a deep breath, suddenly reminded of how frustrating he could be. "You can barely stand up by yourself, let alone walk."

His shoulders rounded even further, and he turned away from me to take a hesitant step toward the cab stand. "I can make it."

"Clark!" I wanted to yell at him that it was okay to let other people take care of him, but he was already several paces away from me, staying upright by sheer force of his stubbornness. I took a few hurried steps and caught up to him. "Where are you going to go, Clark? You don't have your apartment anymore, and you don't have money for a hotel."

"Then I'll go to Perry's."

That threw me for a minute since it was, after all, a rather sensible suggestion, certainly more logical than anything else he'd been saying since Superman's miraculous return. The terror that seemed to have taken up permanent residence within me stirred ponderously, and I took a moment to examine my partner. He was still making his slow, shambling way toward the cab stand, but his eyes were glued to the ground. His hands, shoved into his ragged pockets, were probably trembling, and I had no idea how he could even think past the pain apparent in his shaded eyes.

"Clark, wait!" I cried, and just as Superman had halted at my call, so did Clark. Only…he didn't turn to look at me. There was something so lonely, so desolate, about his posture and the isolated way he stood, something that tugged at me.

"What is it, Lois?" he asked wearily.

"How are you going to pay for the taxi?"

"I was going to call Perry."

"You don't have any change for the phone."

"What do you want me to do?" he asked, his voice so defeated that it felt like a slap.

"What's wrong?" I demanded impatiently. "Why don't you want to go into the hospital? Why were you so abrupt with Superman—you were almost rude! And why didn't you want him to protect your parents? I'm sure they'll want to know you're sa—" I stopped, astonished, when Clark resumed walking away from me.

"He doesn't know where they are."

I blinked. "Your parents? Clark, Superman knows a lot of things. You're friends, he mentioned Smallville—he knows where your parents live."

Abruptly—so quickly I wasn't sure how he kept his wavering balance—Clark looked over his shoulder at me. "Did you call my parents any time during this last month?"

Unable to meet his gaze, I looked over his shoulder. "No."

Slowly, Clark faced forward again. "I had them move…once I began…actively investigating Luthor. I hid them."

"Clark, Superman has x-ray vision and—"

Once more, he looked over his shoulder to freeze me with the intensity of his gaze. "Are you saying Superman would spy on anything and everything to find out something he wants to know? Are you saying he'd go behind my back to look for my parents, knowing that doing so might put them in danger?"

"Well, no. Of course not." I hated it when he did that to me—it was so infuriating.

"Then Superman doesn't know where they are." And Clark again began making his torturously slow way forward. Only, this time, he slipped.

I was there instantly to catch him, ignoring the twinge of pain in my arm. "Please, Clark," I said softly, even more confused about him than I had been when he had left me or when we had been in the cell. "Why won't you let a doctor take care of you?"

At first tentatively and then desperately, Clark slipped his arms around my waist and hugged me close, burying his face in my hair. "Please, Lois," he whispered in a broken voice. "I don't like hospitals. Please, just…help me get to Perry's. I just…" His voice faded until it was almost inaudible. "I need to see the sun."

Confused, afraid, I tried to give him as much comfort with my hug as he had always given me with his. And I tried to remember the last time Clark had ever asked me for anything. I tried to remember a single time when he had begged a favor from me. And I couldn't think of one, not one solitary request. Yet here, for the first time, he was pleading with me to help him. Sure, I didn't understand what was going through his mind. I had no idea why he had acted as if he didn't care for Superman at all. I couldn't figure out why a man so concerned with my safety and well-being didn't care for doctors. But I knew one thing: Clark needed me. And after all the times he had come through for me, I couldn't deny him this single favor.

"All right," I agreed softly. I really wasn't sure the effects of Lex's drug would wear off very quickly or even at all, but I would go along with this until I could think of a way to convince Clark my way of thinking was best. "But if you go to Perry's looking like you do now, he'll insist you see a doctor. Come on. You can stay at my place until…you feel better."

"Lois!" I looked up and couldn't help but smile when I saw a blush putting a bit of color back into my boy scout's face.

"Relax, Clark," I said dryly. "You're hurt; I'm hurt. You're exhausted; I'm exhausted. It won't kill you to sleep in a woman's apartment under these circumstances."

I managed to convince him to sit on a nearby bench while I straightened my appearance and visited the ATM in the hospital entrance, glad I had learned to hide extra ID and bank cards on my person. The cash withdrawal would be a red arrow telling Lex where we were, but with Superman guarding us, I wasn't too worried. Besides, getting Clark someplace where he could lie down had become my number one priority.

It had occurred to me, as I was walking back toward the bench where he was slumped, that Clark had spent a month being tortured, locked away in a tiny cell filled only with pitch blackness. I had known that before, of course, but this was the first time I realized that some people—soldiers, even—never recovered from experiences like that. Imprisonment, isolation, torture…those things ate away at sanity, unbalanced stability, haunted dreams, and altered personalities.

It took my heart a long time to remember how to beat normally after I considered the possibility that I might lose Clark even after finding him again. I had to do whatever I could to help him. No matter how irritating and puzzling his present actions were, I had to be there for him.

So I got him in a cab and took him to my place even though I was convinced he would have been better off at a hospital. I unlocked the doors using the spare keys stashed behind the loose wood of the door frame and ushered him into my apartment even though I wasn't sure what to do with him once he was there. And I convinced him—mostly by brute force—to take the bed and I set up some blankets for myself on the couch even though I was desperate to call the police and Perry and the mayor and anyone else who could make Lex pay for what he had done.

When Clark was safely settled for the night, I sat in a nearby chair where I could keep a watchful eye on him and turned on the news, anxious to prove to the little voice in my head that I hadn't just imagined Superman rescuing us. I wasn't disappointed either; the news was filled with stuttered, disbelieving accounts of appearances by Superman, here in Metropolis, in England, in Africa, even in some country I had never heard of before. It seemed that, now that he was back, Superman was planning to stay and eager to assure the astonished world of that fact.

On one of my frequent glances over my shoulder to check on Clark, I noticed that he was staring at the TV, its images flickering in tiny reflections on the lenses of his glasses and emphasizing the unusual beard tracing the lines of his jaw. Utterly silent, Clark seemed transfixed by what he was seeing.

Superman was his friend, I reminded myself, no matter how strange their interaction had been. That was, I realized suddenly with a frown, the first time I'd ever seen them together. Maybe that was the type of friends they were. Or maybe after hearing about Superman's death, Clark hadn't been able to comprehend his friend's safety, his own rescue, and the cessation of the dosages he'd been so regularly exposed to.

Suddenly, as if he couldn't bear to see anymore, Clark rolled over, turning his back on the television.

Something was definitely wrong. Even in the cell, I had never seen Clark so broken, so lost, so hurt. Though I didn't understand what was going on in his head, I knew he needed me. And even if he didn't, it was my style—the old Lois Lane's style—to intrude where I wasn't wanted. Curiosity—if not friendship itself—demanded my intervention.

Quietly, I padded across the floor and sat on the edge of the bed. Clark didn't move, though I knew he wasn't asleep. "What's wrong?" I asked bluntly.

His eyes gleamed in the muted light as he turned to look at me. Time seemed to freeze as he lifted a finger toward my cheek. Then, abruptly, he blinked, dropped his hand, and turned away. "I'm just tired, Lois."

The way he said my name—caressed it—made me determined to stay at his side till I knew what was going on. "I know something's wrong. How much pain are you in right now?"

"I'm feeling better."

I snorted; sarcasm was safer than despair. "Anything is 'better' than what you were feeling. Can I get you something to eat? You must be starving."

"I'm not really hungry." He paused, then said, almost desperately, "Do you know how long it will be before the sun comes up?"

I frowned at the windows and their view of Metropolis's night. "About seven or eight hours, I'd guess. Why?"

He was silent so long I thought he wasn't going to answer, so I was startled when he conversationally said, "I'd like to see the sun again."

It must be a farmer thing, I thought with an inward shrug. Or maybe his body was craving Vitamin D, or whichever vitamin it was the sunlight gave you. "Well," I said, "I can't make the sun rise any faster, but is there anything else I can get you?"

"Would you mind…turning off the TV?"

I frowned yet again. Frowning so often was another aspect of working with Clark that I'd forgotten. Of course, I also smiled more when he was around so maybe it evened out in the end.

When I flicked off the television, Clark's body relaxed slightly, as if the news of Superman had been bombarding him with pain. "Thank you, Lois."

"Do you want to call your parents? I'm sure they're worried about you." Unlike me, they would have known something had to be wrong for their son to seemingly drop off the edge of the world.

"No." He swallowed, looking so fragile I almost cried. Clark wasn't supposed to look fragile. Seeing him vulnerable was just…wrong. "I can't risk leading him to them."

"Clark." I once more sat on the edge of the bed and tentatively laid my hand on his shoulder, wishing he would look at me. Even when he was at his most infuriating, there was something comforting about his eyes being fixed on me. "I'm sure Le—Luthor is too busy trying to make it seem he was never at that warehouse and covering all his tracks to worry about your parents right now. He's got to be trying to figure out how he's going to wriggle out of this now that both of us can testify against him."

"You're not going to press charges, Lois. Neither one of us are. I'm sure he told you what would happen if we said anything against him."

My eyes narrowed and my hands clenched into fists, fury hazing my vision. "He can't destroy an entire newspaper."

"Yes, he can." The certainty in Clark's voice caused goose-bumps to raise all along my arms. "He can kill Perry; he can set a bomb; he could even buy it if he wanted to. We'd never be able to stop him, not without S—not anymore."

"So, what?" I asked, restraining the urge to grab Clark by the shoulders and shake him, as if that could make him revert to the smiling, confident partner I missed so much. "You think we should give up? Just roll over and play dead?"

"No." Clark's gaze moved past me to rest on the black TV screen. "I want my life back." And then he was looking at me, and all my thoughts scattered before the intensity of his silvery-brown eyes and the determined set of his jaw. "But I'm saying that we need to be careful. We need to gather so much evidence and proof that there's no way Luthor can possibly wriggle out of it on a technicality. We need to make sure that when we take him down, he stays down."

"We can do that," I stated firmly—maybe even desperately, though I would never admit that. "Together—partners again. Right?"

His smile was small, faint, and beautiful. "Partners," he agreed. His finger traced the line of my cheekbone, and against my will, my eyes fluttered closed. I had missed him, missed him so much that part of me had gone with him. Now he was back—tormented or not, he was still Clark—and I knew I would do anything to keep him safe.

"I wish I could protect you."

My eyes flew open at his fervent words, startled by the way they seemed to voice my own thoughts.

"We'll watch out for each other," I told him. "Isn't that what you said partners do? And besides, Superman's back. He'll help us."

"Superman." Everything that I had just watched light up Clark's eyes and birth that breathtaking smile of his now disappeared. "Yes, we do have to remember him."

I watched, helpless and frustrated, as Clark once more rolled over, hunched in around himself as if in pain. "Superman will still be here tomorrow," I said, suddenly thinking I might understand his fear. "It isn't a dream. He's really alive."

"I know." But he didn't uncurl, didn't look at me, didn't smile.

My heart ached with pain for him. If Lex had been standing right in front of me at that moment, I really think I would have killed him for the scars he had given my partner.

My friend. Because, no matter what I said when others could hear me, Clark was my friend. Had been my friend almost since the moment I had met him. I just hadn't realized it before. Now…now I realized it. Now I admitted it. And now I knew I needed to be as much of a friend to him as he was to me.

Slowly, afraid he might bolt if I moved too quickly, I slid under the covers next to him and laid down, watching him, hoping he knew he wasn't alone. Though his back was stiff—clear indication that he knew I was there—he didn't acknowledge me in any way.

Finally, when his body relaxed in the rest he so desperately needed, I slept.

And Then There Was Light

A Lois & Clark Story
by Anti-Kryptonite

Part 4 of 23

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