Chapter 19: Almost
“Look in May 1991,” Clark suggested. Lois turned to the stacks behind her and pulled out the file box. “May 8th, page E11.”
“Thanks,” she called to Clark, where he was searching a few columns over.
The two of them had the place to themselves. The electronic archives eliminated the need for most people to search through the hard copies of the Planet kept in ‘The Morgue.’ She knew from Clark’s miraculous find yesterday that he could search for information here much faster than an electronic search, and with better recall. If she wanted, she could be directing him like a conductor…. but there was something about getting her hands on the documents herself, seeing the information clearly printed with her own eyes…
Besides, Lois Lane was now a woman on a mission. When they returned from their interview with Mitchener, Perry had been less than pleased with their findings:
“Lane, Kent – you must have something more for me than this,” he stated flatly.
“Well…” Lois started, but dropped the excuses she had been formulating in her mind. “No. But I know there is some sort of connection between the buildings with the most damage. And I would bet that L & V Construction is involved, and, to a greater or lesser degree, Philip Mitchener as well.”
Perry pierced her with a hard look. “Would you bet your reputation?”
Lois turned to Clark. She could see in his eyes that he would support whatever she decided. “Yes.”
“Because you know what this would mean, Lois. Mitchener comes from a well-connected and well-respected family. If you go up against him without hard evidence, publishing an article based on supposition…”
“It’s not just supposition, Mr. White,” Clark put in. “Superman scanned the buildings in question, and he saw evidence of shoddy workmanship.”
“So, Superman had time to tell you all about the structural inconsistencies in a damaged building, but he didn’t have time for an interview?” Perry shook his head, incredulous. “Great Caesar’s Ghost – didn’t you even ask him about the typhoon he redirected this morning?”
Lois tried to cover. “We were so busy in our interview, we didn’t even know, Perry.” So that’s where he had been…
Perry threw up his hands in frustration. “I knew Lois could get myopic when she was digging into a story, but is she rubbing off on you, too, Kent?” Clark opened his mouth to respond to an obviously rhetorical question, but Perry plowed on. “For the thousandth time, boys and girls, what sells newspapers?”
“Ad nauseam,” Lois added under her breath. Clark barely kept his composure.
“Scandal…” he slapped his fingers into his opposite palm for emphasis. “Sex…” by this time they were chiming in with him, “… and Superman.”
Lois rolled her eyes.
Perry pretended to ignore it, and went on. “You haven’t found a whiff of scandal, never mind sex, and you two pass up a chance for an exclusive with Superman?” He huffed disbelievingly. “When this was about Lex Luthor and his dirty dealings, that was one thing. But now?” He shook his head wearily. “You two have one more day on this angle before I switch you to a different story.”
Perry’s eyes narrowed at hearing his hated nickname used. “You heard me, Lane. One more day.” He moved purposefully back to his chair, sitting with a manner that brooked no further argument. “We’ll cut our losses and run an article on the deputy mayor’s work with the reconstruction for tomorrow’s edition. You can handle that, Kent?”
Clark nodded. He could probably handle a hundred pieces like that, she thought, impressed and frustrated at the same time.
“In the meantime, bring me hard facts, and not hearsay, by tomorrow morning. Got it?”
“Got it,” they replied in unison, although Clark was wearing an expression of wide-eyed agreement, and Lois’ features were set with determination.
Perry should have known better. There was nothing that would set a fire under her feet faster than being told she would not be able to do it. Lois brought the papers she had collected over to a table, where Clark was sorting through a pile of his own. “If we can’t find anything suspect about Mitchener in the obvious places, we might as well try to connect the dots some other way.”
“I’m not sure there’s anything to find, Lois. He really seemed honest and sincere during our interview, and his office is working overtime to help clean up the city.”
“There’s something here… I know there is. My hunches are rarely wrong.” She stopped sorting the documents, and faced him. “Trust me. This is my superpower.”
Clark quirked an eyebrow, and smiled fully at Lois, acknowledging the truth of her comment. A tiny frisson of pleasure went through her, and she suddenly felt hyperaware of him. Then his brows drew together and his voice dropped almost an octave. “But Mitchener was right. If I’d only been around in the first place, none of this would have happened. Luthor would be serving a life sentence in prison…”
“Clark! You stop that right now!” Mesmerized by the depth of feeling in his voice, Lois reached out and gently touched him. “Don’t let your guilt over what happened blind you.” She felt an almost electric tingle in her fingers where they rested on his arm, as though attracted by a magnet, and she was somehow unable to sever the connection. His face turned toward hers, eyes full of regret.
A sensation of warmth, the different sort of déjà vu she had felt this morning, built again in her chest, spreading outward through her limbs. She found herself moving toward him, drawn inexorably to touch his face gently with her free hand. “You can’t save the world from itself, no matter how hard you try.” Moving into him, she stood so close she could see the light filtering through the dusty blinds reflected in his clear eyes. Her face now only inches from his, she breathed, “Just concentrate on saving the ones who really… need it…”
Her lips were almost brushing his. Oh, my God! she thought, aghast. What am I doing?
Clark pulled back abruptly just as she found herself doing the same. Her face flushed with shame and she pushed away roughly. She drew in a shaky breath, but before she could speak…
“We can’t do this.” He seemed as shaken as she was. “It’s not right.”
Of course it wasn’t right! Lois felt guilty… angry… and disappointed. She stood up quickly, not caring that the papers she had been organizing flew everywhere. “I need some air.”
Pushing past him for the doorway, careful to avoid touching him again, she started to yank the door open… and found it opening already.
“Hey, guys! Jimmy told me…” Richard trailed off, nonplussed at her frazzled appearance. “Lois, what…?”
“I’m going to get some coffee,” she explained, straining to seem normal, and walked past him to go down the hall. Neither one of the men chased after her. Clark was likely feeling guilty; Richard was likely used to it.
Lois reached the coffee maker, grabbed a paper cup, and poured the coffee into it with trembling hands. She had forgotten all about Richard. When they had returned from the interview around lunchtime, Richard had been busy on the telephone. And then Perry had called them in for their meeting. So before heading to search the archives, they had asked Jimmy to let Richard know they had a question for him.
And now Clark was in there with Richard, probably gasping for air as much as she was. She hoped that he had the presence of mind to ask about the hidden pilot’s license, because she certainly didn’t right now.
Deep in the bowels of the building, she felt stifled by her thoughts and by the walls around her. Lois moved through doors and corridors in a daze, headed in no particular direction. When she arrived at the destination chosen by her subconscious mind, she could only stare around her dumbly. The roof of the Daily Planet.
Lois closed her eyes a moment, and let the light breeze blow her hair away from her face. Then she walked over to the place where she and Superman had talked. Had begun their flight. Had almost... The roof looked very different than the last time she was up here, the rays of the late afternoon sun catching the recently repaired globe, but her feelings about it were not.
It almost happened again! she thought miserably. Superman… Clark… it didn’t seem to matter which side of himself he was displaying anymore, she was unavoidably drawn to him.
She remembered how intoxicating his presence and warmth had been that night. Being alone with him on the roof, the way they had so many times before… Their lips had been only a hair’s breadth from touching when she broke it off. Just like a few minutes ago.
Just before it had happened, she had been feeling that warm sensation. This morning, she had termed it another case of déjà vu… but now she was a little shocked to realize that it felt more like… falling in love.
But how could I be? I loved him once… truly loved him. But now, I love Richard… don’t I? She compared the feelings, almost weighing them against each other. On one side, she had the comfortable companionship she and Richard shared. He knew her so well, was a wonderful father, a tender lover… even if her heart hadn’t been in it since Superman’s return. And last night, well…
On the other side, there was Clark. Since finding out, or really, remembering that he and Superman were the same person, Lois was being deluged by a multitude of emotions. She was angry about how he had erased her memory, without giving her a say in the matter or a chance to prove she could handle the knowledge. She felt guilty for the dismissive way she had treated him when she thought he was just farm-boy, aw-shucks Clark Kent… and for the way she had put him on a pedestal as Superman. She was frightened for him and their son, terrified of what Luthor might do if they didn’t find him first. She was impressed at his ability to juggle two lives so convincingly, as well as the noble and interesting ways he put his gifts to use. She felt pride in their easy partnership at work, and how they seemed to complement each other. And she felt bits and pieces of many other emotions as well… thankfulness, envy, sadness, paranoia… And apparently attraction. Although she would have sworn only two days ago that it was a ghost of passion brought back with the memories… today had proven it was something very much alive.
Lois sighed. Richard was right. She was still in love with Superman, and now she could finally admit it. She had to make a choice, and soon. She couldn’t string along both men now that she knew she had feelings for each of them.
But it wouldn’t be an easy choice. She could choose loveable, safe, stable Richard or complicated, romantic, exciting Clark. If she chose one over the other, would she forever regret it? And which was better for Jason in the long run?
- - - - -
After not finding Clark in the Morgue, she was relieved to see him at his desk busily typing. She got within a few feet of him before he looked up.
“Hi, Clark.” She tried to show she was feeling better with a small smile.
“Hi, Lois.” Clark’s fingers continued to fly over the keyboard as he smiled back nervously. “I’m finishing that story Perry wanted.”
“I see. Look, Clark…” she began, but he interrupted her.
“I indexed the articles that have any mention of Mitchener’s name.” He continued his rapid-fire typing as he spoke.
“Okay, thanks. I wanted—”
“They are indexed by date, and on your desk.”
“All right.” Clark obviously wanted to avoid talking now. Fine, she could do that. “Did you talk to Richard?”
His fingers paused momentarily on the keys, but he didn’t respond.
“About the pilot’s license?” she prompted.
“Yes. He said he would research whether Mitchener had run into any trouble as a pilot before the end of work today. I was also planning to check with the local airports to see if his flight plans were logged, and try to get an idea about where he usually flies.” He reported this in a perfectly friendly tone, but she could sense there was something he was hiding.
But she didn’t press the issue. “Sounds good.” Clark grunted noncommittally and kept working.
Shaking her head, she returned to her desk. She began to read the first article they had pulled. Well, Mr. Mitchener. What are you hiding?
- - - - -
A few frustrating hours later, Lois pulled her car into the garage at home. They had found absolutely nothing, except the names of some of Mitchener’s college buddies and business associates. Lois had tried to track a few of them down, even left messages for some, but never reached a live person. The trail was growing cold, fast.
And Clark’s behavior had been puzzling. He had been genial, polite, but completely impersonal. Not like either one of his personas. Their almost kiss must have affected him more strongly than she imagined, if he didn’t even want to discuss it.
Lois wearily opened the door from the garage to the kitchen, and dropped her purse and keys on the counter. It was awfully dark in here… weren’t the boys home yet? What were they…
Her eyes fell on a surprising scene. An elegantly set table, with linen tablecloth, tapered candles and a beautiful lily centerpiece stood before her. In the dim candlelight, Richard was dressed handsomely, smiling a touch nervously. Jason stood beside him, dressed in play clothes, backpack slung over one shoulder. The little boy was grinning like a Cheshire cat.
“What is all this?” she asked, amazed.
Richard came over and planted a gentle kiss on her cheek. “I thought it would be nice to have a romantic evening together. Help you relax after a stressful couple of days.” And to make sure I remember his commitment to me and Jason, she realized.
“But what about Jason?”
“Don’t worry, I got someone to watch him tonight.” At that moment, the doorbell rang. “Oh, there he is now.” Richard started walking toward the entryway. Jason began shifting from foot to foot excitedly.
“He? Oh, who did you get, Jimmy?”
Richard didn’t need to answer. Jason had already bounded to the door and thrown it open, revealing his fidgeting sitter. Below bleak eyes, he offered a goofy little grin and wave, although his face lit up as he lowered his gaze to Jason.
Next: Chapter 20: The Dance