It only took him seconds to speed across the Metropolis skyline back to the Daily Planet building, but the time spent getting there felt like an eternity. His tears stung his eyes, making it difficult to see the buildings before him. Scanning his surroundings as he spotting the revolving globe in the distance, he landed on the roof of the Planet faster than the eye could see, changing back into his uniform of Clark Kent: Reporter. He rushed to the door and opened it, putting his weight against it to quickly shut it. There, in the privacy of the stairwell, the silence almost deafening even to his own ears, Clark put his head against the door and allowed the remaining tears to fall.
I’m so sorry, Lois. God, I’m so sorry…
The look on her face when he explained his situation haunted him. She had tried to understand – she really had – and he couldn’t blame her reaction given her circumstances. Her words had stung deeper than anything he could remember, the pain of two simple words worse than kryptonite.
She didn’t understand. She wouldn’t understand, not as long as she failed to remember their past, and how difficult it had been to live in a world taken over by General Zod and his companions, even if it was for a short while. Had he listened to the words spoken by his mother, the world wouldn’t have suffered. If he’d listened, who knew where their relationship would be now…
His hand tightened into a fist. He resisted the urge to slam it into the metal door. Her heartbeat was steady, no sign of anything unusual… and that drove him crazy. She could either be asleep or still on the deck. Her even breathing told him little else. Wiping his eyes, he decided that Clark Kent would have to drop by later to make sure she was doing okay. It couldn’t be done without a purpose though, so he also decided to dig a bit deeper into the investigation in order to bring her something when he arrived. Maybe – hopefully -- she would listen. Usually it was Superman explaining how Clark Kent was right about something. It felt strange to know it was going to be the other way around this time.
She took a deep breath, releasing it in a shudder. He let the melody of her breathing calm him a bit, his nerves still somewhat skittish as he slowly walked down the staircases back to the newsroom. There would be no employees this late in the evening, but the janitor might still be around. He lifted a hand and put it under his glasses, wiping away the last of his tears and hoping his face didn’t give too much away. He found the door leading to the bullpen and opened it quickly…
… only to jump back and shriek loudly, immediately in character. The janitor was standing right in front of him, his dark hair reflecting in the lights above, staring back at him blankly. Clark could remember a time when the Mexican would raise his eyebrows to his hairline and mutter something in Spanish about how the boy needed to grow up and become a man, but, apparently, he had gotten used to his frequent dramatic outbursts. He only stared back while Clark put a hand to his heart, the other flailing back behind him until it hit the wall.
“Eduardo!” he said with a punctuating squeak. “Wh—what are you doing here?”
“I clean,” Eduardo answered simply, tapping the mop in his hands with a long finger.
“Oh… yes. Of course you do. And you do it very well. Great job, Eduardo! The floors have never looked better!”
Eduardo muttered under his breath – “Loco,” Clark heard clearly – and turned around, looking at the desks in the bullpen. “You work? Now?”
“Oh, I’ve just got a few things that need to be done before the morning. It’s been just as hard with Lois gone and everything. Double the workload, you know.” He chuckled.
“No,” Eduardo deadpanned in complete seriousness, the thick, bushy mustache above his lip making him all the more intimidating. “Don’t know. Get work done. Home on time.”
“Oh. Well, uh… I’d hate to be keeping you. Have a good night, Eduardo.” With a push of his glasses, Clark passed the older man and reached for the doors.
Clark jerked to a stop, turning to the Mexican with a wide-eyed stare.
“No trash on floor. Just cleaned.”
“Oh. Sure. Sure, Eduardo. Good night.”
Clark stepped into the bullpen and walked straight towards his desk, eyes scanning the room as he went. All the desks surrounding him were empty, all the offices locked and dark. The lights of the city filtered in through the blinds of many of those offices, including Perry’s and Richard’s. Then again, the lights of the city had been the only thing lighting that office for a while now.
Listening for Eduardo’s heartbeat, he estimated that the janitor was a good enough distance away for him to work undetected. Turning on his computer, he leaned back in his chair and considered getting a cup of coffee. He would need something to get him through the night, especially with the way it had been turning out so—
“Señor Kent! No coffee!”
Clark nearly leaped out of his chair. Eduardo’s heartbeat had been going at the same pace, but his movement to the door was slow enough that Clark didn’t think anything of it. I can’t be getting sloppy, especially now. Leaning his head away from his desk, he saw Eduardo pointing a finger at him.
“Coffee stains!” the older man said. “On chair! No coffee, Señor Kent!”
Inwardly he felt like groaning, the emotionally draining conversation with Lois catching up to him. Instead, he raised a weary hand and said, “Okay, Eduardo. No coffee.”
The Mexican waggled his finger at him while he moved out of the door and walked to his cart. While Clark entered his password, Eduardo took the cart and walked to the elevator. When he walked into an open chamber, he kept his hard brown eyes locked onto Clark until the doors closed. He was going down.
He’s going home. Good. Just to be sure, Clark listened to his heartbeat while he descended to the main floor. Focusing on the floor, he saw Eduardo put his cart in the janitor’s closet and grab his jacket. He blinked, the image dissolving before his eyes. His computer beeped at him once. His background, the happy, smiling faces of him and his mother before he left, stared back at him. He moved his mouse until it hovered over the file that held the 3D model of the wreckage.
He flinched. If anyone had heard Lois say those words, they never would have suspected that they were directed at the Man of Steel himself. Superman, especially the one hopelessly devoted to Lois Lane, would never be a coward. She just doesn’t understand. My parents’ words are the only thing I have of them now. Without those crystals, I have nothing. The Fortress is a giant lifeless alien artifact in the Arctic. Had I listened to mother and father when they begged me – begged! – to not become mortal… how many lives would have been saved? How long would Zod and his cronies walked the earth before I stopped them? Who else could they have harmed before I walked back to the Fortress?
Sitting on his desk was a framed photograph of his mother. A deeper look – the look that only x-ray vision could give – showed another photograph hidden under it; the picture of Lois and Jason when their boy was born, the one she had given him at their lunch. His eyes lingered lovingly on the child.
I wouldn’t have my son. I truly would be the Last Son of Krypton had I listened. This bright young child, with all his defects and allergies and medicines… is perfect to me. I wouldn’t trade his life for anything. I wouldn’t change anything at all.
A headache slowly built as the image of the wreckage developed before him. That meant he had made his decision in defiance. In disobedience, even. But Lara had never forced him to choose the right or wrong answer. She just told him to choose. Carefully. The results were the same for his son as they were for the love of his life – his decisions had cost countless others their lives. Clark wouldn’t trade bringing Lois back or the life of his son for anything, but all those lives…
That’s why I must be so careful this time. It’s not that Richard is the… romantic rival… it’s that my selfish decisions have cost others irreplaceable lives - sons, mothers, fathers, daughters… all gone because I decided that my pleasures where higher than theirs. I can’t deliberately use Superman this time. Clark Kent has to solve this.
With a small smile, he thought back to the diner where he had taught a certain trucker a lesson on manners. Clark Kent might have to solve this one, but that doesn’t mean Superman can’t help a little. There are only so many things a reporter can do before he needs to call for help.
Rubbing at his eyes under his glasses, ignoring the heartache he frequently felt at such thoughts of where his boundaries were with his abilities, Clark took a deep breath and used his mouse to turn the model around. Clicking in a few commands, he was able to breakdown the structure piece-by-piece until all four walls were side-by-side-by-side-by-side in front of him. He rested his head on his hand, staring intently at the picture. It didn’t make sense, really. Three of the four corners were structurally weak, but they couldn’t have become so from time or weather. Buildings on the docks, no matter how old they looked, were always structurally sound.
Curiously, he put the model back together and twisted the frame. Then, typing in more commands, he destroyed the model. It collapsed before him in a tangle of codes. Rebuilding it, he did the same thing over again and got the same results. The building was totally demolished with only one corner still standing, the same way he saw it when he arrived after hearing Lois’ cry for help. Closing the file, he opened a new document and restructured the entire thing, but corrected the problem in the four corners. Typing another command added water weight to the structure.
Gradually, he added more and more until the program showed him certain places that had leaks in the building. Closing his eyes, he remembered every broken piece of wood and sheetrock he had studied in the wreckage until he found every part of the ceiling. Thanks to his x-ray vision, he could see certain areas of the roof that had significant water damage. While the water damage was similar in this more complete structure, the water weight he added hadn’t been that much. The first structure shouldn’t have collapsed like it did.
Heading back to the first model, he put the four walls in front of him again and carefully studied the weaker three corners. There was nothing unusual about the weaker parts themselves… until he moved the model to a certain angle.
The weakness wasn’t something that was straight through the corner. It was at a downward angle.
Closing his eyes again, he desperately remembered all the corners he had seen while observing. The three suspicious corners had a brighter coat of paint on them than the fourth, and just underneath it was a downward angled cut.
Slowly, his eyes opened. He could feel the blood drain from his face. With a small groan, he leaned back in his chair, staring blankly at the model before him.
On the island, someone had moved the wreckage of the plane from the clearing to the brush… just like someone had gone and caused structural damage to the repair shop.
Nothing about the building’s destruction had been an accident.
Lois had been set up.