Barbara (htbthomas) wrote,
Barbara
htbthomas

Déjà Vu - Chapter 26 - Giving

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Déjà Vu

 

Chapter 26: Giving

 

Clark set the heavy piece of marble down gently and soundlessly, looking deeply disturbed.  “This doesn’t make sense at all.” His brow furrowed, deep blue eyes seeming to intensify.  “I was sure that the substandard concrete was the link between all of the L & V buildings.  But this one is ten years older than any of them…”

 

Lois completed his thought, “And built long before the company existed.  Or before Mitchener held public office.”   

 

He nodded shortly, and jerked his head to the side.

 

“What?” she asked in a hushed voice.

 

“Two police officers are doing a circuit of the building.  We’d better get moving…” Without preamble, he placed his hands firmly around her arms.  She clamped her mouth shut to keep from crying out in surprise as the world spun into a blur of motion… and they were suddenly standing in an alley across the street from the collapse.

 

Lois released a heavy breath and tried to get her bearings.  What a way to avoid being caught!

 

“Sorry,” he apologized, seeing how startled she was by their sudden movement. “There wasn’t time.  If I were still in uniform, I could have…”  Clark trailed off as he watched another ambulance leave the scene, eyes dark with anguish.

 

As Superman, he seemed impervious to pain – but as Clark, the deep sorrow he must be feeling was etched strongly on his face.  She reached for his hand, and squeezed it firmly.  “You did everything you could.”

 

He kept his eyes on the scene of destruction nearby, talking in a low, trembling voice.  “So many died today, Lois.  While I was scanning the rubble for survivors, I tried to put it out of my mind, to find every last heartbeat, no matter how faint… but when I located the last person… and all I saw were…”  His voice breaking, he stopped, unable to speak the horrible thought aloud. 

 

Lois moved closer to him, slipping an arm around his waist.  Here, where the shadows of the tall buildings kept them out of sight of the main street, where most were focused on the disaster, she felt free to comfort him.  He finally turned to her, brought his arms around her, and pulled her close.  They stood like this for several minutes, Lois’ head buried in his muscular chest, Clark’s chin resting gently on her hair.  Gradually his heartbeat slowed, and his breathing calmed, as he appeared to draw strength from their embrace.

 

 

While she was offering silent comfort, Lois felt another wave of realization slowly wash over her.  People think of Superman as this god-like being, powerful and unaffected by human troubles, aloof and set apart.  But it’s this very difference that makes him feel so alone.  He left Earth in search of some connection to his past.  And he discovered that he was indeed all alone, the Last Son of Krypton.

 

But now he has Jason… and me.  Finally, he has someone who can give back to him some small portion of all he has given to the world.  Lois hugged him tighter to her, willing a replenishing of his spirit.

 

“Thank you,” he murmured into the crown of her head, and his warm breath sent a shiver down her spine.  She resisted the urge to slip her hands beneath his suit coat…

 

Clark lifted his head, and looked down at her, regret in his eyes.  “I need to go now… I have to help with the recovery of the bodies.”

 

He began to pull away from her, but she held him fast.  “No.” Of course his super-strength would have made it easy to rush away, but her slight pressure must have been enough to stay him. 

 

Clark looked confused and bit disturbed.  “What?”

 

“You have better ways to spend your energy, Clark.  Let the emergency workers handle it.  This is a job for Clark Kent and Lois Lane… more than Superman.”

 

Clark quietly stared back at her in surprise.

 

Lois pressed on, determined to give him a more constructive outlet for his talents.  As horrible as this tragedy was, she needed to keep him from dwelling on it.  “I think you… that we… could be of more help to the city if we can get to the bottom of why these buildings keep falling, and catch those responsible.”  She pulled Clark back into the light, and motioned across the street, voice growing stronger.  Before he could protest that they already had been trying to figure this out for days, she plunged on.  “I know you said that the concrete used in this building and some of the other buildings was less dense.  Could there be any other reasons why this building fell?”
 
Clark’s face took on a look of intense concentration.  “Let’s see… I never studied structural engineering, but I have done some casual reading on the subject…” At Lois’ raised eyebrows, he added, “You know, to help with other disasters… there sure have been an awful lot of earthquakes since I donned the suit…” He turned his eyes thoughtfully on the scene again. “I guess there might be several factors.  Maybe a lack of adequate rebar in the foundation’s footings – Metropolis is not usually prone to earthquakes, so there wouldn’t have been as much rebar to begin with and the company might have cut corners that way, thinking it wasn’t necessary.”
 
“That would make sense given the substandard concrete.”
 
He nodded, but kept his gaze focused ahead of him.  “It’s also possible that there was improper backfilling of the soil – if it wasn’t compacted properly or was poor material to begin with then the ground around the footings of the structure became unstable after the quake and caused the foundation to sink.  Of course, that would aggravate a problem with the footings, and wouldn’t be enough on its own.”

 

“Yet another case of bad construction.  Anything else?”

 

“Maybe a water leak?  Although you would think they would have noticed the decrease in water pressure… It would have to be a big one, say, in the pipes coming into the building, not a leaky faucet.  It would have helped wash away damaged material from the foundation, weakening it.   That assumes that the footings were already damaged.  It can be a problem on its own, but you usually have a huge sinkhole if that happens.” He shook his head.  “It’s too hard to tell right now what it was, after the fact.  The whole foundation is a mess, and most of the network of pipes is a hopeless snarl down there.”
 
“That’s good,” Lois said, giving his arm a pat.  “It could be any of those things, or none of them.  But we’ve got some more specific information to work from now.” Deep inside, Lois began to feel a fresh sense of determination. Through their investigation, they could prevent another tragedy from happening.  “We’ve been focusing more on the buildings that fell after the quake… but what if we research the other buildings constructed by L & V, Ottman Enterprises and the rest?  Maybe together we can narrow down which ones might have the same fatal flaws…”

 

The anguish cleared a little from Clark’s face, and he straightened up. “I could call some of my contacts in engineering, when we get back to the Planet.”   Clark gave her a look of loving admiration. Lois felt relieved, seeing her words seem to strengthen his spirit.

 

“Speaking of which, we should really get back.”  Lois raised her hand to make a swooping gesture, but then stopped mid-swoop.  Not this time.  She took a few more steps onto the sidewalk to determine which way would be the easiest.  “Traffic is horrible in all directions… want to walk?”

 

“We don’t have to do that, you know,” he reminded her gently.

 

“I know, but…  It’ll look strange if we get back to the Planet before Jimmy does… and I have a few things I need to talk to you about anyway.”  She held out her hand to him, inviting him to take a break from duty.

 

Clark smiled suddenly and nodded.  He took her hand, squeezing it tenderly before dropping it.  With a start, Lois realized they couldn’t be seen even holding hands, not yet.  The disappointment in Clark’s eyes mirrored her own as they started down the street.

 

After they had cleared the main danger zone, and threaded their way past the barricades, Clark broke the silence. “Actually, I really like to walk.  It often helps me clear my head, keep things in perspective.”

 

“Really?” she asked, surprised.  “I would think you would want to get as far away from the hustle and bustle of the city as possible.”

 

His lips quirked in a half-smile.  “I do that too, going high into the atmosphere.  But sometimes being right in the thick of humanity recharges me as much as the sun does.”  His smile grew to full blinding strength as he added, “And being around the people I love helps as well.”

 

She blushed.  Why did she suddenly feel so shy?  But his words reminded her of the main reason they needed to talk. “Clark…”

 

“Yes, Lois?”

 

“Richard knows why I left him now… and who I left him for.”

 

This time, Clark looked surprised.  “Who…?”

 

Just as she began to respond, Superman, they moved into a crowded group of working people heading for lunch.  She lowered her voice.  “Your alter ego.”

 

“But that makes things—”

 

“Really complicated, I know.”  His lips compressed in concern, but she kept talking afraid he would chasten her.  Clark, he’s had me figured out from the get go.  You hadn’t been back even a day before he asked me if I loved you.”

 

Somehow Clark didn’t seem surprised.  He looked away, ashamed. 

 

“You already knew that?  But how?” Lois asked, confused.

 

“Um…” She could tell he didn’t want to tell her, but was trying to be as honest as possible in the light of their burgeoning new relationship.  “I watched the conversation.”

 

“Watched it…?”  She suddenly realized what he meant, and instead of being angry at his invasion of her privacy, as she might have been just a few days ago, she laughed. “I think that ‘S’ will always have more than one meaning for me now.”

 

He looked even more ashamed, somehow.  She bit back any further teasing. “I was desperate to know what you thought about me… I’m sorry.”

 

“If I had…” she made a signal with her fingers from her eyes to refer to his X-ray vision  – there were still people walking around them on all sides, “the things I would have done…”  She patted his arm.  “But back to the point.  Richard guessed Jason was yours, and accused me of running into your arms last night… which I obviously did…”  She shook her head tiredly.  “I kind of expected all of that.  But what worries me more is that he questions our safety with you.  He believes you won’t be able to be the kind of father Jason needs.”

 

“He has a good point,” Clark said in a small voice.

 

“Stop that!” she chided him, suddenly fiery.  “You think so little of yourself sometimes!  Richard doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  He sees only the untouchable hero… not the reality of the man underneath.”

 

“So, he doesn’t suspect…”

 

“That there’s a secret identity? No.”  They had reached the nearest subway entrance, and she moved a little ways from the staircase.  “But I’m worried that in his quest to dissuade me, he’ll figure it out.”

 

Clark’s eyebrows raised.  “To dissuade you?”

 

“He thinks I am making a mistake, and promised me he’d find a way to convince me of it.”

 

“Oh, dear.”

 

“So, I can see only a couple of options here.  One: We keep our relationship a secret until enough time has passed that I can safely begin to date you.  Two:  We…” Lois hesitated.

 

Clark knew exactly what she was about to say.  With great consternation, he finished, “… tell him.”

 

Lois nodded.  She knew this was Clark’s decision to make.

 

“Lois, I…” He shook his head in disbelief gently as he talked.  “Every person that knows exponentially increases the risk to your safety.  You, Jason, my mother… that’s it.  That’s enough.”

 

“Then I guess we’re stuck with choice number one,” Lois said in a subdued voice.  She wished they could avoid secrecy, even though she accepted Clark's decision.  But worry still niggled in the back of her mind – how long would they have to keep this a secret?  Until Richard gave up on his mission to change her mind?  Until Jason was old enough to ask his own questions?  She had carried her secret crush on Superman for so many years – how could she add the weight of a relationship that would feel like an illicit affair?

 

Her stomach abruptly rumbled, reminding her that it was lunch time.  She looked across the street and saw a greasy spoon diner, which suddenly looked very inviting.  “Wow, I’m really hungry… but I’m eager to get to work on this new angle…”

 

A gust of wind was the only sign she had that Clark had left.  Lois looked from side to side, bemused, and then shrugged.  Geez, Clark, couldn’t you have said ‘Gotta run’ or something before you took off?  Well, there were always the vending machines back at the paper.

 

She headed down the stairwell, rode the subway, walked the two blocks to the Planet Building, and took the elevator in silence, alone with her thoughts.  She put her worries about Richard out of her mind for a while as she pondered the investigation.  After they narrowed down their list of suspect properties, maybe Clark could do some flyovers to find the ones most likely to go next..  And using a combination of their investigative skills and Superman’s credibility, publish an exclusive story to blow this scandal wide open…?

 

The elevator opened and Lois walked toward her desk with a purposeful step.  But before she could even leave the vestibule, Clark materialized in front of her, plastic take out bags in hand, a shy smile on his face.  Clark?  What have you…?”

 

“You said you were hungry, but we needed to get to work.  So I thought, how about a working lunch?”  He lifted the bags in his hands, which were marked with some sort of Chinese-looking writing.

 

Lois smiled gratefully, noticing that Clark was wearing the same look of happy anticipation that Jason would give her after cleaning his room.  She felt a wave of tenderness threaten to engulf her, and immediately tried to stifle it.  Gotta get better at acting, Lane, if you’re going to keep this thing a secret!  It was going to be hard.  Clark’s desire to please her was absolutely adorable.  She took one of the bags from him, and they walked to her desk quickly.

 

She sat down and opened the bag, expecting to see paper cartons filled with Chow Mein or Pork Fried Rice… but instead there was a large, round red-lacquer container covered in plastic wrap.  Under the plastic was… “Sushi?” she said with a trace of queasiness.

 

Clark’s pleased face fell.  “You don’t like sushi?”

 

She grimaced in response to his question.

 

“Oh, I’m sorry… I guess you’re still a hot dog and hamburger sort of girl?” he apologized.  “I just thought it would be nice to surprise you with something really authentic and fresh.  And boy, is sushi good when it’s fresh…”

 

She gestured to the bags and whispered.  “Did these come from Japan?”

 

He grinned boyishly.  “A little place just a few blocks from the Tsujiki market.” He pointed inside her bag.  “There are some kappa maki and mushi-ebi in there.  Cucumber rolls and cooked shrimp… they’re not raw, if that’s what bothers you.”  He shrugged, embarrassed.  “Or I could run out for a hot dog…”

 

I guess it wouldn’t hurt to try one or two, she thought, feeling bad for him. He’d gone to so much trouble to please her.  I can always grab a candy bar later. “No, that’s okay, I’m a risk taker,” Lois said cheerfully, peeling back the film.  She looked around for the chopsticks.

 

“Here.” Clark handed her a pair of wooden chopsticks, a packet of soy sauce, and a little plastic cup filled with green paste.

 

She took them and looked at the cup helplessly.  “This is the hot stuff, right?”

 

Wasabi,” he confirmed.  “You mix it with the soy sauce and dip the sushi into it.” He showed her what to do by mixing his own.

 

Almost daintily, she plucked one of the rolls that looked like it had cucumber inside from the tray with the chopsticks, and dabbed just the barest edge into the now brownish wasabi mixture.  “Here goes nothing,” she said, and popped it into her mouth.

 

Her tongue was assaulted with an odd combination of flavors.  Spicy horseradish, salty soy and seaweed, and the mellow cucumber.  She chewed slowly, letting the rice blend it all together.  It was crunchy and smooth all at the same time.  “Not bad,” she admitted.

 

In fact, it was good enough to attempt something more ambitious.  In five minutes time, she felt brave enough to try the salmon (sake toro, he called it).  Clark watched her with a trace of amusement.  She braced herself, and bit into the slice of melon-colored fish.  She gasped in amazement.  It practically melted into her mouth, having absolutely no fishy taste whatsoever.  Just a sweet, smooth savor that complemented the chewy white rice and wasabi beautifully. 

 

She swallowed, and started to comment on how good it was when Clark’s face suddenly went white.  His mouth dropped open a little in shock and he stared ahead of her dumbly. 

 

“What?” she asked, turning to follow his gaze.

 

Clark was looking into Perry’s office, where Richard and the editor-in-chief seemed to be talking earnestly. 

 

“They’re… they’re talking about Superman.  Richard just asked…” Clark swallowed, nervousness plain on his features.  “He just asked Perry what he remembers about the weeks just before Superman left.  Specifically, about the events concerning General Zod.”

 

Lois froze.  Then, with eerie synchronicity, the two men in Perry’s office turned, and looked directly at the two of them.

 

Next: Chapter 27: Tension
Tags: superman returns
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