There was a certain weight to the action of clicking the 'save' action before emailing the final story to Perry White's desk. Clark couldn't remember a time when the action felt so foreign, so… final, like sending off the article was a strange sign of surrender. He knew it shouldn't have been, the story being another front-page article like so many others he had written throughout his career, but still. Maybe because Lois had so little to do with this one, but he still felt the need to keep her name on the byline.
Stop fooling yourself, Kent. You know exactly why this feels this way. He could almost hear Lois' voice behind the words. It would have made him smile if the feeling of surrender hadn't been so strong. Why couldn't he place it? Why did this one seem so different from all the others?
He leaned back in his chair, listening to it creak, wishing he could take off his glasses and rub his eyes. He shouldn't stay miserable in his own thoughts. He was too distracted, and the strange feelings warring in him were going to give him a headache before too long. His eyes wandered absently to the nearest TV showing the breaking news of Christopher Hendrick's drug ring discovered. The volume was quiet, but his ears could easily pick up the interview going on screen. His stomach dropped. The topic of discussion wasn't the drug ring or the rescue of Richard White – not really, anyway. It was clearly written in the large text on the bottom of the screen: Public opinion: Superman's rescue loyal, or controversial?
Figured it wouldn't take long for the rescue to turn into tabloid fodder. He frowned at the screen, wondering how old the woman was who was being interviewed. She seemed to be a college student, and the look of steel in her eye was enough to indicate that what she was saying was negative. He didn't need his enhanced hearing to note that.
"I don't get it. I mean, everyone knows that Superman and Lois Lane had this big love affair back in the day. He just goes off and saves her fiancé when there are so many other people who have missing children or loved ones – what about those people?"
The image switched to an older woman who had far more understanding in her eyes. "I have no problem with it at all. He just saved Lois Lane's fiancé. Don't you think that means he'd be willing to do anything for anybody, even save the guy who's engaged to his girl?"
Clark couldn't help the small twitch of his smile. He knew there would be controversy, but he also knew there would be people who would understand. They had been around for as long as he had. The sad part was, people wouldn't see the real triumph of the story – Underground was no longer the major drug ring.
His perfect memory brought the images back clearly to the forefront of his mind as he leaned forward and rested his arm on the desk, his fingers lightly digging into his scalp. Once he had told Meline where Richard was, he quickly flew over the London skyline to the docks, waiting for the London Met to show up and rescue the kidnapped reporter. He grew nervous the more he saw Hendrick's rage come forth, beating Richard within an inch of his life in a dark storeroom surrounded by crates full of drugs. The Met had finally arrived at the docks, but they still didn't know the exact location of Richard and Hendrick. He waited nervously, intent on the Met finding him first, before speeding to the storeroom when Hendrick pulled out his gun a second time. The Met had seen him, and he froze in front of the room, ready to speed in again as he watched, seemingly in slow motion, as Hendrick's hand squeezed the trigger and fired a shot at Richard's chest. He was so distracted that he never saw the officer run into the room and fire a shot before Hendrick's finger had fully curled, shooting the drug lord in the back. Hendrick's surprise jerked the gun upward with the impact, making the bullet hit Richard's shoulder instead.
All it took was two shots. One nearly killed Richard while the other saved his life.
That's probably why he felt so guilty. Richard didn't need to be injured. He knew his actions would be controversial, but he wanted the Met to get the credit for finding Richard. It felt like he was helping them without actually helping them. Letting them do the task that humans could do themselves.
That's a lie, and you know it. He knew not saving Richard would be a bigger guilt, but that didn't make it any easier. But doing the right thing isn't always easy, is it? He probably knew that better than anyone.
He was so immersed in his thoughts that he barely heard the commotion grow in the bullpen. It was when it escalated to applause that he leaned in his chair to look down the isle. His eyes widened.
Lois and Richard were walking into the bullpen. Richard was in a wheelchair and wasn't dressed for work, but Lois walked in next to him anyway, smiling at her fellow reporters and showing off her talents with the crutch. Perry came out of his office moments later, demanding to know why they were there and what Lois thought she was doing, but there was a smile on his face the entire time. Clark knew he wouldn't let either of them work, but the relief in the office – on edge despite the news that Richard was safe and sound – was obvious. They had seen it with their own eyes. They knew it to be true.
The smile on Lois' face as she shook hands with another reporter made him freeze. It was the first real smile he had seen since this entire fiasco had started. It was the smile he had longed to see for months. It was the smile he knew he wouldn't have seen had Richard died.
People were right. He was selfish. He had saved Richard to see that smile again. It was a smile that haunted him in his dreams so frequently, as a memory, clear as day invaded his mind. He normally wouldn't allow himself the luxury of daydreaming, but seeing the two of them so happy together made it so hard to forget a time when he had drawn that smile out of her…
"What are you so happy about?"
Accelerating just a little bit, Clark raised his eyebrows and glanced at Lois in the passenger seat. "What do you mean?"
She grinned at him and reclined between the seat and the door so she could see him better. "You know what I mean. You've had this little smile on your face since we left the Fortress."
The little smile she had mentioned evolved into a full-out grin. "You mention the Fortress and you're wondering why I'm smiling?"
She swatted his arm with the back of her hand. "You know what I mean."
"I know, I know." He reached over and took her hand, kissing her fingers. "I'm just happy. Is that a bad thing?"
"Of course not." She adjusted herself and let her fingers drift through the hair on his neck before caressing the skin. "I just don't think I've ever seen you look this way before."
His smile returned. "I've probably never been this happy before." He glanced at her again, feeling utterly content with the world.
She turned back to the road, but her fingers remained on his neck. "What are we going to do when we get back to Metropolis?"
"Quite frankly? I really don't care. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it."
She chuckled. "You really are in a good mood. I don't think I've ever known you to not have some kind of a backup plan. Are you sure you're feeling alright?"
He smiled thoughtfully. "I've never been better." A comfortable silence fell between the two for a moment before Clark hesitantly looked at her. "Did your breath catch?"
Lois looked at him, baffled. "What?"
"When I smiled just then. Did your breath catch? It was weird; I could usually hear it when I smiled like that, but now that I can't…"
The grin she gave him was downright devilish. "Trust me. The more time we spend together, the more you'll be able to hear it again."
He could feel the heat lightly taint his cheeks. Her fingers drifted to his reddened skin with a giggle. "I love that you still blush."
He cleared his throat. "Well, you can take the boy out of the country, right?"
She laughed and moved her hand back to his neck. "Good."
"Your country side is adorable. Don't lose that."
He raised an eyebrow at her. "Did you just call me adorable?"
"I'm allowed to do that."
"I think I should be the one asking you why you're so happy."
"I just am."
He chuckled. "That's pretty unimaginative for an ace reporter."
"How about this for ace reporting: we're going to need gas at the next stop and take a bathroom break."
"Stating the obvious isn't ace reporting, Lois."
"Lots of reporting could be noted as stating the obvious."
Clark shook his head then flipped the turn signal, taking the exit and pulling into a station. "Whatever you say, Lois."
She stayed silent until they pulled next to a pump. The moment he made a move to get out of the car, she grabbed his arm. He leaned back, surprised, and blinked at her when she kissed him. "Thanks for letting me win. That's a great start to a relationship."
Before he could react, she opened her door and got out of the car, walking to the bathroom. He grinned and shook his head again, closing the driver door and reaching for his wallet.
After filling the car with gas, Clark made his way into the station and started wandering around for snacks. He had a water bottle in one hand, standing in front of a display of chips and candies, when he noticed a pair of hazel eyes staring back at him from the end of the aisle. They looked away when he glanced up, but he didn't need his enhanced vision to know who it was. With a small grin, he slowly moved into the aisle, watching Lois on the other side match him pace for pace. He grinned at her display of stealth, suddenly feeling frisky, and kept his gaze even with her as she knelt behind the isle, the top of her head the only thing visible. When they both got to the middle of the aisle, she blinked at him, once, twice, and continued to hide behind the boxes of… whatever it was. He wasn't really paying attention anymore. It seemed like the world had just narrowed down to the two of them.
He knew he couldn't keep the spark out of his eye when he lifted the water bottle above the aisle and asked as normally as possible, "Want anything?"
There were a million ways he could have rephrased the question, he knew, but he couldn't help the tease in his voice. Her eyes crinkled at the side, little evidence he could actually see of her smile. She finally stood straight, but the gleam in her eye was fully evident. Frozen to the spot, feeling himself hypnotized by the swagger with which she walked, he grinned when she walked out of the aisle and moved back toward the little hallway leading to the bathroom. Moments later, her hand moved from around the corner and she crooked her finger at him.
He couldn't help but laugh. Whatever seductive act she had sported was still running through his veins, but the spell had been broken when she whipped her head around and gave him the smile of a giddy, love-struck girl. He walked over to the hallway and leaned his head around the corner, spotting her a little further in, leaning against the wall. He walked up to her. "Yes?" he asked, unable to resist a smile.
Without warning, she grabbed his shoulders and pulled him down to her, fusing her mouth to his. He thought he heard his water bottle hitting the floor when he dropped it… did he drop it? The world was suddenly narrowed down to the two of them, her arms wrapping around his neck while his hands pulled her closer to him. He thought they had fallen against the wall at one point, but he really couldn't tell. He didn't care. His universe was centered around the woman in his arms, holding him tightly as she kissed him passionately, making him dizzy. When she pulled back he was only aware of a few things; one of her hands had made its way into his hair, gripping it tightly. He was breathless as she held him closer and whispered something… He wasn't sure if he had imagined it, so he opened his eyes and looked at her. Conviction was overflowing in her gaze, the hand in his hair moving down to his cheek to take off his glasses. She held them gently in his hand. "I want you, Clark," she whispered against his mouth. "I don't care how we make it work in the office. I just want you."
He kissed her again, overwhelmed by her words, and rested his forehead against hers. He was never a mind reader, but he found it amazing that he could sense how utterly content she was and how seriously she meant her words. He debated saying something about her stating the obvious again, but chose to hold her close instead, letting himself be swept in the wonder of her love for him. It was beauty and wonder, happiness and satisfaction. There wasn't anything like it. He didn't know if it had to do with what they had shared, but he never wanted to miss this feeling.
Lois gasped and pulled back suddenly. Clark looked at her face for a moment before turning to see what she had gasped at. He froze. Standing in front of them, with shoes untied and ball cap backwards was a little boy. His eyes were wide as he stared at the two of them.
Clark gulped, blinking back at the pair of brown eyes. How long had he been standing there staring at the two of them?
Lois was obviously far calmer as she relaxed in his arms. She pushed Clark back a bit and pointed at the door down the hall. "The men's room is that way, kid," she said pointedly, snapping the kid out of his daze. He blinked at them for another moment before walking past them to the door, staring at them the entire time. When the door shut, Clark looked back at Lois with his mouth wide open. "How… how long was he standing there?"
"Who cares?" Lois shrugged. The passive look she gave him made him chuckle. He leaned forward and kissed her one more time, then leaned over and picked up his water bottle, gesturing back to the checkout counter. Lois clasped her fingers around his and walked beside him, grinning slightly the entire way. Clark stepped up to the counter with his wallet, giving the number of the pump he was at and lightly pushing the water forward. The cashier, whose nametag read Barb, gave him a look full of boredom as she tucked a strand of her long dark hair behind her ear. "Anything else for you?"
Clark turned to Lois, who leaned forward on the counter. "Marlboro reds in a box?"
As Clark turned to raise an eyebrow at her, Barb turned behind the counter. Sitting in a chair with her feet propped on the counter sat a redhead. A worn novel was in her hand. "Anissa," Barb said dully. "Marlboro reds?"
"I heard ya," Anissa muttered. As if she had done it a thousand times before, she reached in front of her and pulled out the pack without turning away from her book. A short toss to Barb, who caught it perfectly, was the last bit of attention she gave to anyone else in the room.
Clark turned to Barb. "I'm sorry, just a second." He turned to Lois. "Lois, I'm not going to buy you cigarettes."
"What? You asked what I wanted."
"I mean food-wise." He lowered his voice. "I'm probably mortal now, Lois. I'm not going to risk you dying early on me when I just got you."
He ignored her blink of surprise and turned back to Barb, declining the cigarettes. The cashier shrugged and put the box under the counter, taking Clark's cash and giving him his change. When Clark turned to put his arm around Lois' shoulders, he raised his eyebrows at her look. "What?"
She said nothing as they got into the car. Clark turned the key and watched the gas meter rise for a moment before turning back to Lois. She was still staring at him. "Mortified you have to stop smoking now?" he teased.
She looked back at him tenderly, shaking her head. "No. I just hadn't thought of it that way."
"That you aren't going to risk me dying early on you now that you've got me."
He grinned at her as he turned on his seatbelt. "I've thought of it every time I kissed you." The words were said with complete sincerity. They could have been easily mistaken for teasing, but the look he gave her afterward seemed to have said everything. She grinned at him as she reached for her own seatbelt, never leaving his gaze, and as he turned out of the gas station to head back to the highway, she reached out and rested a hand on his thigh, completely content with the silence that spoke volumes.
He jumped, genuinely startled. Lois' hand was on his shoulder, and her smile grew when she saw his surprise. "Good God, man. Where did you go?"
Reality hit him like a bit of kryptonite. He fought to keep his face as neutral as possible as he stood from his chair. "L-Lois! What are you doing here?"
"Ticking Perry off. The usual." She replied smugly. "Richard finally got out of the hospital and Lucy swung us by here on the way home."
He adjusted his glasses. "I'm sure you had something to do with that."
"Of course I did. Reporting is in my blood. It's like I haven't been able to breathe since this whole thing started." She sobered up a bit, staring at him thoughtfully. When he blinked at her and looked down at his shirt to see if he had anything on it, she grinned and put her hand back on his shoulder. "I wanted to thank you again, Clark, for finding Richard." He opened his mouth to protest, but she beat him to it. "Don't you dare go on about how Superman did what-not and all you did was such-and-such. You did far more than you'll give yourself credit for." She gave him the barest smile. "Did you out my name on the byline?"
"Oh! O-of course I did."
She shook her head and leaned in a little closer to him. "Don't tell anyone, but this is the one time I'll let you take all the credit."
He was momentarily dizzy by her perfume, but snapped himself out of it. "But, you helped me, Lois. I couldn't leave you out of it like that."
She pulled back and clapped his shoulder. "That right there? That's why you're a good man, Clark Kent."
"Yes, he is."
Lois turned back with a smile as Richard wheeled up to the two of them, Jimmy leading him around the bullpen. The young photographer said nothing, wisely smiling at the group.
"Richard!" Clark exclaimed, reaching out a hand to shake hands. "Are you sure you should be here?"
Richard waved him off. "Don't worry about me. I've got a lot of other things on my mind." He was silent for a moment. "Lois tells me you helped Superman find me."
"Uh, I… ah… I'm not sure that… well…"
"I don't want to hear it." His smile was grateful. "You helped save my life. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you." Richard stretched out his hand again, clasping Clark's tightly. "Thank you, Clark. I mean that."
Clark smiled awkwardly at Richard for a moment before returning the shake enthusiastically. "It's no problem, Richard. I'm happy I was able to help."
Clark jumped again and whipped around to Perry's office. "Yes, Mr. White?" he croaked out.
"Get in here, Kent. Just because you're finished with one story doesn't mean the news has stopped."
Clark waved nervously and grabbed a pad of paper on his desk. He turned back to the three. "Well, duty calls."
"Go get 'em, Clark." Richard said, giving him a thumbs up before being wheeled to the other side of the bullpen. Lois watched them for a moment, and then turned to Clark, smiling at him fondly.
The simple action caused him to gesture wordlessly to Perry's office. He tried to stutter, but Lois beat him to it. "He's probably giving you something he would have given me. Make me proud, okay?"
Two pats on his arm and Clark watched her walk away, following Jimmy and Richard to the other side of the bullpen. When she reached them, she put a hand lightly on Richard's shoulder. The look between the two was unmistakable.
The jealousy that flared in him was overwhelming. He stared for a moment at their smiling faces before reaching into his jacket and pulling out a pen, making his way to Perry White's office.
Just another day at the Daily Planet.
Writing this fic for four years has taught me two things: one, people need to have a lot of patience and a lot of information when writing something like a mystery. Two, I am not one of those people. Writing Underground has taught me so much about myself, both good and bad, but I'm thrilled that many people wanted to come along for the ride. Special thanks, as always, goes out to my beta team of htbthomas, alamogirl80, and a nod to vanel for his Brit-picking. Thanks for helping me keep my head on straight for four years. :)To everyone who stuck with this story, joined in the middle, reviewed every chapter, reviewed a chapter, begged me to continue, encouraged me to go on when I lost all hope with it… thank you so much. Your support means the world to me.