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"… To Leap Tall Buildings In A Single Bound …"
by Andrew Wickliffe

Set between the events in "The Man of Steel" 4 and 5
Told in the continuity of that series


Prologue - Another Day at the Daily Planet
1.

The day began for Clark Kent like any other. He woke, showered, shaved, and went to work. It should have been a day that would have been forgotten, melding together with the other non-eventful days that surrounded it. It would not.

The Planet was always a little different for Clark, it always would be. For as long as he'd been living in the city, he was just a country boy. The amount of people working and things going on, regardless of what time of the day, would forever be amazing to him. As he passed through the building, from the lobby to the metro news room, Clark looked at the people who passed him. The same faces as the day before, the same faces as always.

Kent had barely sat down at his desk when he heard two things. One was his fellow reporter Lois Lane's regular announcement of her arrival. He had heard it since he had started working at the Daily Planet two and a half years before, but he still looked up.

"Greetings, wage-slaves. What's news?" Lois walked over to her desk and sat down, barely even glancing at Clark. He looked at her the way he had looked at her since the first time he saw her, with a sense of awe. She was the single thing that really stood out in the news room, at least for Clark. While she was pretty, she wasn't astonishingly gorgeous. Lois Lane just seemed to control any situation that she found herself in. She had to notice the way Clark looked at her, of course, but there was room enough for only one man in Lois Lane's life. Clark smiled inwardly at the thought of his rival. At least Lois had been more civil to him lately, since she thought he'd been killed.

The other thing Clark heard, something that no one else in the news room heard, was Perry White telling his secretary to have Kent and Lane to come into the office. When the secretary arrived to give the order, Clark was already on his feet, while Lois had just begun to drink her coffee.

Getting their morning assignments from Perry right away was not at all unusual, in fact, considering Clark and Lois were the Planet's best reporters, it was expected. Clark couldn't remember a morning when he and Lois hadn't gone into Perry's office. It was nothing out of the ordinary.

Clark graciously held the door open for Lois, which she had grown used to, looking at her fellow reporter as one of the more polite back-stabbers of all time. She'd let up on him lately, but it still bothered her that he'd scooped her on -

"Lois!"

Lois looked at Perry, lost in thought. "What?"

"Are you awake this morning?"

"Sure, Chief."

Perry was sitting behind his desk, looking tired. While he sipped his coffee Lois remembered hers, left behind on her desk.

"Nicholas Becker is in town," White began, "He's probably going to be donating some money to Metropolis University. Needs his name on something else, I'm sure. Wants to talk about it. Considering you two have given us an edge over the Daily News and everybody else, one of you would seem to be the perfect choice."

Clark and Lois looked at each other. Nicholas Becker was the number two man in Metropolis, actually number three, right behind Lex Luthor. Becker had been spending most of his time out of the city, the last seven or eight years in fact. Not known for being particularly interesting, it would have been a boring interview for any reporter. However, given that it had been offered to the top reporter at the Daily Planet, Lois assumed that it was some kind of punishment. And so she did the only thing to do in such a situation. "Chief, I'm in over my head on this Anderson kidnaping."

Lois gave Perry her most sincere look, hoping she hadn't used it too much. "But Clark just finished up on the land deal, so he's all clear."

Clark, who actually had just finished his series on crooked land development, saw that any chance of getting out of the interview had just vanished. He watched as Perry looked from Lois to Clark and nodded. That was it, the assignment was his.

"What do you say, Kent?"

Out of the corner of his eye, Clark saw Lois smile, just a little. "Well, sir, I don't know much about Becker. He left Metropolis long before I moved here."

But he knew he was finished. Perry shrugged: "You've heard of him, that's more than enough. Go down to the morgue if you need anything else."

Clark nodded, consigned to his fate. Lois smiled: "Is that all, Chief?"

"Yeah, yeah. Kent, you're having lunch at the Ritz, two o'clock. Take Jimmy along."

"All right."

Lois followed Clark out of Perry's office, trying hard to contain herself. It was the first time in a while that Kent had been given a truly lousy assignment solely because of her ingenuity.

Clark sat down at his desk while Lois returned to her own. She couldn't resist needling him a little: "Sounds like a lot of fun. Just you, Jimmy, and Nicholas Becker. You should talk to Krupps over at Sunday."

"Sunday?"

Lois nodded: "Yeah, he started doing it after he interviewed Becker, said he never wanted to be put in that position again."

"Lois, I find it hard to believe that Nicholas Becker is the most boring interviewee alive. How could he get to be so rich if he was entirely without people skills?"

"People skills? He inherited all his money."

Lois rolled over to Clark's desk and leaned on it. "In fact, the rumor is that he killed his parents to get it."

"How?"

"How?" Lois shook her head. "I don't remember, I think it was a plane crash or something. The thing was, the police suspected him, so he hired a private detective, who proved that he didn't do it. Pretty smart guy."

Clark was about to respond when Jimmy Olsen passed by, fiddling with his camera. Jimmy had started as a copy boy, became a photographer, and was looking forward to becoming a reporter someday, hopefully soon. Lois caught his attention.
"Jimmy."

Jimmy stopped and looked at them. "Yeah, Ms. Lane?"

"Clark's got a job for you."

Lois stood up while Jimmy waited for Clark. "Well, ta-ta, everyone."

"Where are you going?" Clark asked, still waiting for the conclusion to her story.

"Lucy's in town," Lois said as she pulled on her jacket. "I've got to go pick her up. Bye"

Clark and Jimmy watched Lois walk out of the office. Jimmy sat down next to Clark's desk and put his camera aside. "So, what's our assignment?"

"I'm interviewing Nicholas Becker, Perry wants pictures."

"Isn't Becker the one that made Krupps commit himself?"

Clark looked at him, wondering whether or not the whole Krupps/Becker story was as factual as a snipe hunt. Jimmy might only be a photographer, still a young one at that, in his teens, but Lois could have put him up to the charade. Clark couldn't be sure, however. While he knew that he was one of the closest people to Lois, along with her sister, Jimmy, and Perry White, that wasn't from anything she had said. But he and Jimmy had always been friends, Clark becoming an alternative influence on the teenager besides Lois. Still, it was a normal morning, not that different or memorable from any other.

2.

Clark found Krupps next to the soda machine, reading a copy of the Daily News. Clark was a little surprised by exactly what it was he found. Sunday, as it was affectionately called, was the Planet's all-color magazine that appeared in, not surprisingly, the Sunday paper. Krupps was big, unshaven, and generally scruffy. He looked like he should be working the cop beat from ten to six. In other words, exactly what Sunday personnel did not look like.

"Krupps?"

Krupps looked up at him from his copy of the News. He and Clark had probably said two to three words to each other since Clark had been working at the paper. The words were either "excuse me" or "move it."

"Yeah?"

"I heard you interviewed Nicholas Becker a while back."

Krupps nodded: "About a year ago, when he was passing through. Going from Coast City to Paris or something."

"I'm interviewing him this afternoon."

"Yeah?"

It was beginning to look like Lois had orchestrated the whole thing, all right. "Well, I hear he's a lousy interview."

"Charts."

"Charts?" asked Clark.

"I go in to the airport, wait for two hours to talk to this guy for five or six minutes," Krupps began, his face twisted with a bad memory. "He comes off the airplane with his wife, her kid, and a couple of flunkies. I was just going ask him some questions about why he left Metropolis business to Luthor and headed west. Instead I get a prepared speech about his fiscal year, along with charts. His flunkies set up easels and everything."

Krupp shook his head. "The guy has all the people skills of a cave bear."

"Oh."

"The happy ending to it all was that I got to come over here to the Sunday section."

Clark was more than a little confused. "That bad?"

"What?" Now Krupps was confused. "No, my ex-girlfriend used to be over here. Drove her crazy when I got to interview all the actresses and models."

Krupps looked at the bewildered Kent and thought for a moment. "You should go see Charlie Richards. He's an old guy, but he covered it when they thought Becker killed his parents."

"Did he?"

"Only if Becker can be in two places at once, he was in Naples on summer vacation when it happened. Still, Charlie knows more about Becker than anybody else."

Clark started to go looking for Charlie Richards, but was interrupted by an alarm triggered at a bank in the Pelham section of the city.

3.

Criminals in Gotham City and Metropolis have something in common besides the obvious, that being that both break the law. They also both are inherently dense. While not necessarily stupid people, they do manage to commit crime in the two worst places in the world to do it. Both cities have had their law prevention policies radically changed in the last few years. While a criminal in Gotham has to worry about something in the dark of night, a bank robber in Metropolis, Freddy Nelson, for instance, has something else to expect.

Freddy was not that bad of a person, it was his brother's fault that he ended up robbing the bank. Of course, Freddy could have waited to go out the door, instead of running at the sound of the police sirens, assuming he could outrun the cops. He could have. In fact, Freddy would have escaped the police until his brother turned him in. But, this being Metropolis, it wasn't the police that arrived first on the scene. The sound emitted by the bank's alarm attracted someone else first. Someone much taller and much more imposing than Freddy.

That's how Freddy Nelson met Superman. The story he would tell his children after getting out of prison would be a little different, but essentially true. Freddy ran out of the bank in a panic, prepared to leave his brother behind, and went smack into the Man of Steel. For Freddy Nelson, 5'7" on a good day, and 135 pounds soaking wet, it was a bit of a shock. Such a shock it knocked him right down onto the sidewalk.

By the time Freddy recovered from his spill, the bank customers were on their way out, the police had arrived, and Superman was escorting his brother out of the bank. Holding him two feet off the ground by the cuff of his shirt. Freddy was also escorted, but only by members of Metropolis' finest.

As Freddy and his brother sat in the back of a police car, they watched as Superman shook hands with a few of the cops and most of the bank customers. Then Superman flew away into the sky. In Freddy's tale to his children, he also included that the Man of Steel shook hands with him and was prepared to let him go, but the scum- bag cops just wouldn't listen.

4.

It seems like the message is finally getting across, Superman thought as he flew above the city. The number of street crimes in Metropolis had dropped soon after he'd first appeared, and with the exception of larger crises he hadn't been very busy. Of course, ever since his first encounter with Lex Luthor, Superman had to deal with whatever Luthor's latest (and totally untraceable) attempt on his life was.

But today, after such a simple task, and thankfully what that left everyone unharmed, Superman was calm. He flew at a leisurely pace, low enough to wave at the people still surprised to see a man flying through the streets. Quite a difference than the public's reaction to Batman, Superman thought, but then Gotham City was a very different place. During his encounters with Gotham's protector, Superman was always stunned at his methods, but even more stunned when he discovered that Batman cared just as much about people as Superman did.

Superman flew over the campus of Metropolis University, remembering his first night in the city. He smiled at the thought of flying inside a building for the first time. So much had changed since he had called Mount Royal home. The sight of the clock tower brought Superman back to the present however. It was a quarter to two, and Jimmy would be waiting for him back at the Planet.

The citizens of Metropolis were so used to see Superman flying through the city at top speed toward some disaster or another that it was no surprise as Superman sped across town. One would hardly assume that he was late for an appointment, one that Clark Kent couldn't break, no matter how much he wanted to.

Jimmy was waiting outside, looking at his watch, and absentmindedly fiddling with his camera. Mr. Kent was usually on time, Jimmy thought, and we've only got ten minutes to get there.

"Ready, Jimmy?"

Jimmy turned and saw Clark standing behind him. "Sure, Mr. Kent."

They started walking down the street, the Ritz was only a few blocks away. "Aren't we going to be late?" Jimmy asked.

"Well, from what I heard from Krupps," Clark smiled, "It'll be all right."

Jimmy smiled, a little relieved that Mr. Kent took the joke so well. A perfectly normal day.

Part One - The Evil That Men Do
1.

There are sounds that mortal men are never meant to hear. So terrible, so deafeningly awful that it is hard to imagine they even exist. They are the sounds of unbearable anguish. Those were the sounds that day in the most desolate place on the planet, the center of the continent of Antarctica. But even penguins on the coast would develop partial deafness.

There, in the middle of nowhere, stood a man, nothing more. There was nothing super about Superman, except that his screams of pain moved mountains. It was a sight that no one could even imagine: the most powerful man on the planet, in tears, screaming, with no other way to express his anguish. The Man of Steel, the Man of Tomorrow, had finally seen a vision that the devil himself would be infinitely wary to create.

And there was nowhere that Superman could go, nowhere on Earth. So, he left it. He flew, faster than he ever had before, through the atmosphere, and into the cold of space. The dark emptiness surrounded him, while he slowed himself to an almost motionless orbit around the third planet from the sun. There he stayed, contemplating his future, as he slowly used the finite up amount of oxygen in his lungs.

2.

Jimmy and Clark had made it to the interview just in the nick of time. Clark hadn't even tried to hurry Jimmy, considering that there was no real consequence to being late. They walked into the Ritz and looked around. Clark had eaten there once or twice, on the Planet's tab, but it was all new to Jimmy.

It is a lot different than Oaktown, Clark thought, watching Jimmy look in awe at the class of the hotel. It was also very different than anything in Smallville, but Clark had stopped being impressed by things like that a long time ago.

"The restaurant's over there, Mr. Kent." Jimmy pointed to the adjoining restaurant. Clark followed him, going over the interview in his head. Clark was all set for the assistants and the pie charts.

Instead, they found that the restaurant was too full for there to be room for the easels. Nicholas Becker was sitting at a large table with his wife and step-daughter. The Beckers had already started on their appetizers, which Clark mused, probably cost a significant portion of his monthly salary. Certainly more than the wide-eyed Jimmy made in that amount of time. Becker was in his early fifties, with a gaunt face and a full head of greying hair. His wife was younger, but not that young, well into her thirties. She looked like she had been wearing makeup for her entire adult life, ruining her naturally pretty face. Clark could smell the alcohol on her. Her daughter was only about nine, very pretty, with short red hair.

Becker stood up as Clark and Jimmy approached the table. "Mr. Kent?"

"Yes." Clark shook Becker's extended hand. Becker tried to add muscle to his shake, Clark responded by giving the appearance of a weak handshake. "This is Jim Olsen, our photographer."

"Jim," Becker shook Jimmy's hand, "Good to see a young man working, reminds me of myself."

"Thanks, Mr. Becker."

"Have a seat, gentleman."

Clark and Jimmy sat down. Becker followed, the perfectly mannered host. Clark compared Becker's graciousness to Lex Luthor's indifference in hosting.

Becker gestured to the appetizers. "Forgive me, Carolyn was hungry."

Clark and Jimmy looked from Becker to his wife to her daughter, unsure who Carolyn was. The daughter gave no visible response, playing with her napkin. The wife sipped her drink, which was composed mostly of Jack Daniels.

"I'm sorry, how impolite of me," Becker said as he saw their confusion. "My wife, Carolyn, and my daughter, Elizabeth."

Mrs. Becker didn't respond at all to Clark and Jimmy's polite smiles, while Elizabeth smiled back. Becker spoke again as soon as he felt the moment had passed. "I suppose you've got a whole lot of questions."

Clark nodded and began to speak, but was interrupted by Becker: "But, while we wait for the menus, why don't I just talk and you can ask me questions after lunch?

"Metropolis has been my home, local boy done well, but I haven't been spending much time around here lately …"

Becker droned on and on, about the importance of bringing a company such as his to the west coast. Jimmy tried not to look bored, so did Clark. Elizabeth was content playing with her silverware, while Mrs. Becker continued to sip her drink.

When the waiter finally did arrive, Mrs. Becker had already had her drink refreshed three times. Lunch was smoked salmon, ordered from a menu without prices. Jimmy was ready to go to sleep as Becker continued to drone on throughout the meal. Clark had already written the "interview" three times in his head.

Finally, Becker concluded, at which point Clark had assumed he would have to ask questions. Instead, Becker said: "Well, this was fun. Tell Perry White the Planet'll be getting my next interview as well."

Clark sighed inwardly, at least there were no charts. Jimmy snapped a picture of Becker and his family. The waiter came to take the dishes away from the table, and dropped one on the floor between Becker and his step-daughter. Clark looked, out of habit, straight through the table at the floor.

While the waiter apologized profusely in Spanish, Clark Kent's world came to a halt. Everything that had been before, would not be again. No matter what horrors he had seen or would see, the image would never be burned away from his mind.

And an earthquake hit Metropolis, causing the chandelier to fall from the ceiling. Jimmy Olsen got plenty of photographs of Metropolis' upper crust running for their lives before realizing that Clark Kent was no where to be seen.

3.

Plenty of people saw Superman that night, but he didn't see any of them. It would have been impossible not to have seen him. As common a sight Superman might have been in Metropolis, people had never seen him like this before. All he did was stand there, in there air, motionless, looking down at them. Most saw him, then just continued on their way, but some stopped to watch him, as if something was going to happen.

But nothing did. Superman would stay there for a while, anywhere from five minutes to an hour, before walking away. Not flying, just walking through the air. He didn't run or move quickly, he just walked, and looked down at the people. Nobody knew what to make of it.

If they could have known what Superman was thinking, they would not have wanted to. An image repeated over and over in his head. He saw something that most people never would, and even if they did, they would not know the weight of the responsibility he felt.

Around two, when the city had, for the most part, gone to bed for the night, Superman finally made his way back to the East Side. He looked at the globe on top of the Planet building, then made his way to the Ritz. He stood, forty stories above the ground, and looked into the building, searching, until he found what he did not want to. He must have looked only for a second, not even, before disappearing into the sky. What he did see was enough to affirm what he had already known.

4.

Space, even with the Earth so near, is an empty, cold place. The moon is still some distance away, close enough for him to fly to, but there was nothing there for him. He didn't know how long he had been there, but his reserve of oxygen was almost gone. Since he'd never tried to measure how much he used in a state like the one he was in, it could have been an hour, a day, or a week. There was nothing for him that would measure time. Although his eyes were both open, there was nothing he could see that would replace that which he saw in his mind's eye.

Was there anything worth fighting for? What were the people he protected and helped? He had known, but had never seen it. What is a superman that helps only what he can see on the street? How can that possibly help anyone, only being there when the trouble is outside? Where is there any value in being a superman that is unable to help the people who need help the most?

There would be consequences to whatever action he took and it wasn't as if he could just report it. Would reporting it even help, Nicholas Becker was one of the richest men in America. Where is the justice in a system that can be bought?

The thought of going through the building and tearing Becker from his limbs was of no comfort to Superman. He knew that if he did, if he allowed himself that satisfaction, the man he was would be no more. But what was the worth of the man he was, if that man could do nothing.

He felt his lungs go tight as he began to run out of his last reserves of oxygen. Why should he go back if there was nothing he could do?

Part Two - Captivity
1.

Jonathan and Martha Kent had seen more than their share of oddities in their lives, starting with a meteor falling to Earth in their cornfield. Of course, it didn't turn out to be a meteor. This time, almost twenty-eight years after they had seen that meteor fall, they saw another one. Instead of being outside, shutting up the windows for a storm, they were in the middle of the breakfast.

When they got out into the field, they found that it wasn't a meteor, but was what they had found before. Bruised, battered, and burned from the trip through the atmosphere, laying motionless, cape burnt away, eyes staring into nothing. It was their son.

The initial shock passed quickly, although they had never seen him like this. They had never thought he could be like this. Jonathan drug him into the back of the pickup, Martha helping as best she could. When they got home, Martha went inside and Jonathan backed right up against the house. They got him onto the couch and Martha set to work getting hot water. He was cold to touch.

It was a day before he showed any signs of consciousness. Neither Jonathan or Martha knew what to make of the tears. They couldn't remember ever seeing their son cry before. Martha continued the hot compresses, and eventually his eyes closed, and he fell asleep.

The next morning, Jonathan woke to find him sitting on the porch, looking out at the cornfield. He was in one of Jonathan's old robes, one that was too short for him. Jonathan hadn't seen the look on his face since before he had left for Metropolis, for good. It was the look of fear. They sat there, father and son, silent, for the better part of an hour.

"Is Ma awake?"

Jonathan was startled by the sound of his son's voice. "No, she's still asleep."

"I saw something, Pa," he said, "and I couldn't do anything about it."

As he sat there listening, Jonathan understood his son's torment. Regardless of where he came from, he had a responsibility to people. But he was never unable to stop something before, not anything like this. Jonathan understood that he couldn't barge in, regardless of what it stopped, it would be an invasion of privacy that he could never escape. He wasn't judge, jury, and executor, he had to obey the law, just like everyone else. How people could go about their lives, knowing this was happening, without doing more to prevent it, that was what scared him the most.

When Martha woke up at ten, she found Jonathan alone, sitting on the front porch. Her son was gone. Jonathan promised her that he would be back to explain. But, in truth, he didn't know for sure.

2.

Lex Luthor might have been the second most powerful man in Metropolis, but he was still the hardest to see. All a person had to do to see Superman was get themselves in trouble. Luthor had read about his nemesis' odd behavior a few days before and was in the process of tracking down the Man of Steel when his assistant buzzed him.

"What is it, Cynthia?"

"Clark Kent to see you."

"Kent?"

"Yes sir, he said something about a lawsuit."

Clark Kent had been thrown off of Luthor's boat a year before by hijackers that Luthor had allowed to come aboard. It had all been to test the real capabilities of Superman, but it hadn't worked out at all. Kent had never said anything about civil litigation, but it wasn't going to happen. "Send him in."

Lex stood up as the two doors swung open automatically, he couldn't even remember what that had cost. Kent seemed a little hesitant when he came in, a little overwhelmed. Exactly what Lex liked. "Mr. Kent?"

"Hello, Mr. Luthor."

"Please, called me Lex, everyone does. Have a seat." Lex sat back down as the office doors swung shut. Kent very slowly moved to sit in front of the desk.

"Now what's this about a lawsuit?"

"I just used that to get me through the doors."

This was interesting. "And why did you need to see me?"

"I interviewed Nicholas Becker last week."

Kent certainly didn't seem the type that Lex was used to dealing with. Unless Becker had given him some them on Lex that was worth blackmailing for, but Lex couldn't imagine what Becker wouldn't be able to use himself. He'd been keeping tabs on Becker for a while, and there wasn't much he didn't know about him. Unlike Superman, Becker was reasonably easy to follow.

"Mr. Kent, I'm a busy man. Considering the ruse you went through to get in here, I assumed that you had something you wanted to see me about."

"Well, actually, Mr. Luthor, um, Lex," Kent seemed more nervous than before. Which was funny, since Lex didn't remember him being particularly nervy. "Would you be interested in some information about Becker?"

"I thought you reporters had a confidentiality agreement."

"I'm not a reporter right now."

Lex shrugged. "What do you want?"

"To know my information will be put to go use."

"Don't like Mr. Becker?" Lex wished that this would happen every day, something to break the monotony.

"No."

"Well, I always have been a very aggressive competitor," Lex said, "And I suppose Becker still has enough power in this city to be considered the competition."

Kent nodded, and hesitated a moment before speaking: "Take a look at his wife. Why does she drink?"

Lex waited for more, but Kent just stood up. "Is that all you've got, Mr. Kent?"

"It won't be a waste of your time."

As Kent left, Lex thought about what sort of man Clark Kent seemed to be. No, he thought, I don't think it'll be a waste of time. He picked up his phone and placed a call, while in the outer office, his assistant found Mr. Kent's glasses on the floor and went after him. When she got back, after having no luck, Mr. Luthor had been trying to find her. She put the glasses in her drawer before going in to get yelled at.

3.

The only thing that could have saved Francis McLaglen was a miracle, and at the moment, there was little chance of that happening. Had Officer McLaglen only been on the roof, being chased towards the edge, there was still some chance. Something could have happened: one of his pursuers could have tripped, a police helicopter could have flown by, or, better yet, Superman could have shown up.

Now, as he fell through the air, plummeting toward the pavement far below, Francis decided that his mother was right, being a police officer was far too dangerous. The pavement was getting closer and closer, Francis closed his eyes, preferring not to see it anymore.

It had been a simple enough thing to do, arrest a bunch of teenagers who had robbed a convenience store earlier that night. Chasing them into the building had been stupid enough, but going up to the roof, alone, had been the clincher. McLaglen then found himself the prey, with the teenagers having much better knowledge of the surroundings than he did. In the end, he figured that at least if he went over the roof, the punks wouldn't get his gun or badge.

But when McLaglen felt himself jerk upward, he knew two things. One was that he hadn't died, and the other was that he was moving back up in the air. Which meant only one thing: Superman.

McLaglen opened his eyes as he was set down on the roof. The punks got scared and ran. Then McLaglen saw what scared them. The Superman that was grabbing up the punks was different than the Superman McLaglen knew. He looked the same, but his face was dark and angry. The costume was the same, but there was no cape, and it all just looked darker. This Superman showed no mercy to the fleeing teenagers - he flew over them, making sure to knock them down. One he knocked halfway across the roof.

When it was all done, McLaglen was standing face to face with him. Not surprisingly, Francis couldn't think of anything to say. But Superman didn't seem to expect him to say anything. He just looked at him and took off.

McLaglen radioed for backup and went to check on the condition of the teens.

4.

Perry White knew that there was one thing not to do to Lois Lane. Get her mad. She'd been in his office for five minutes, four and a half of which she spent screaming at him about the ethics of newspaper reporting. With anyone else, Perry would have mentioned that he'd been dealing with newspapers and their ethics for a lot longer then they had and tossed them out of his office. With Lois, on the other hand, he decided to let her blow off the steam.

It had been a rough week in Metropolis, and at the Planet. Starting with the earthquake and Kent's disappearance, it had just gotten worse. Metropolis had never experienced an earthquake before, even one that only affected a half-block radius, but in that half-block were two rival newspapers and television stations. All of these were housed in glass and steel mid-rises, and reporters and executives found themselves covered in some of that glass. Olsen couldn't remember what had happened, but knew that Kent had disappeared during or just after the earthquake (deemed a "slight disturbance" by people who knew.) Last night hadn't helped things, either, when the report came in that Superman had just pounced on a bunch of punks. It wouldn't have
been so bad if they had just told the story, but there was a cop (that they had chased off a roof, no less) to corroborate that the Man of Steel was definitely acting a little different.

Which is what had brought Lois into his office, outraged by the cover story in the Planet, which compared Superman to Batman. Perry had thought that might be a little extreme, but the other papers were running with that slant on the story as well. This was what Lois was so angry about. In fact, it was her concluding point: "We had the first Superman story, for Christ's sake, we should stick with him."

"Lois," Perry shrugged, exasperated, "the fact is that Superman did hurt those kids."

"They were criminals."

"Regardless of that, have you ever heard of Superman breaking an unarmed sixteen year-old's arm before? Something is going on with him, all we're doing is reporting it."

"You're making him sound like a vigilante, you even called him one."

"I didn't call him anything, you'll see Ankers' name on the byline."

Lois sat down, tossing her copy of the Planet onto Perry's desk. "You could have called me."

"You were exactly the one who shouldn't have written the story, Lois. Let's face it, you and Kent have a certain relationship with Superman that might bias you."

"You talked to Clark?"

Perry shook his head. All attempts to track down Kent had been fruitless, it was as if he'd dropped off the face of the earth. "No. Did you talk to his parents?"

"They hadn't heard from him," Lois answered. She had been a little uncomfortable calling Kent's parents, considering that he may or may not have mentioned to them her adversarial nature towards him. Why should she have been worried, it didn't matter what they thought of her. But, somewhere in the back of her head, she knew it did. Wonderful, she thought, I'm developing a crush on Clark Kent.

"Well, let's find him, all right?"

"You got it, Chief."

Lois stood up and started to leave.

"Any way we can talk to Superman?" Perry asked as she opened the door. He hadn't wanted to press it, but knew that she or Kent must know how to do it.

5.

Of course, it wasn't Lois or Clark that had a guaranteed way to get a hold of Superman, it was Jimmy. But Lois didn't really feel like sharing this story, or more, this encounter, with anyone else. She had gotten Superman's attention once for an interview and she could do it again. The first time, she had driven her car into Hob's River (with an aqualung along, just in case) and screamed her head off.

That had been dramatic enough, and did get his attention, but this time she needed to do something more. This was what she told herself, at least, while she secured the rope to the guardrail. Dangling from the Planet building seemed like a good way to get his attention, especially since it was well after midnight, and the building was mostly closed down for the night. If he didn't show up and she was seen, it'd be hard to explain. That was what she thought about as she lowered herself down the rope and slowly let the slack go, letting her fall another twenty feet. This had better work, she thought just before screaming for help.

She must have been there for at least five minutes before he showed up, descending from above. The cop had been right, Lois felt that she was looking at a stranger. The cape was gone alright, and his costume looked weathered and darkened. But it was more than that. The cowlick, that cowlick she had seen so long ago, was gone. And his eyes, the calm and peaceful blue eyes were gone, instead, there was a coldness in them. Lois felt more afraid than relieved.

Superman hovered in the air, looking at her, thinking, before taking her into his arms and toward her apartment. They passed over Metropolis Park, and he slowed. Before she knew what was happening, Lois was on the ground and Superman was dragging a mugger to the street, by his hair.

Lois waited for Superman to come back after delivering the mugger to a police officer, and he did, eventually. He seemed to consider, looking at Lois for a few seconds before coming back. They got to her apartment and went in through the balcony. Neither had said anything yet.

Superman stood, motionless, as Lois sat down on the couch. He surprised her by speaking first: "That was real stupid, the rope could have broken."

"I figured it was worth the risk."

"For what?"

"People are talking about you." Lois decided to be very careful. "And it's not all nice."

"I saw the Planet and the rest of the papers." His voice was monotone, not revealing approval or disapproval.

"You could have responded if it was …" Lois let her voice trail off. "Are you all right, Superman?"

He looked like he was going to say something, instead, he stopped himself and stood motionless.

"We're not mad, we just want to know if you're all right."

"We?"

"I. I want to know, I thought we were friends."

"I have to go," Superman said as he looked toward the night sky. Clark Kent wanted to fall down at her knees and tell her how he felt. How his soul was filled with hatred and how he didn't know how to cope. But Clark Kent had been left behind in Luthor's office.

"Please," Superman looked back at Lois, "tell me what you're feeling."

Again, he seemed to considered it, then walked out onto the balcony. Lois followed him. He stood, looking down at the city. Lois couldn't tell for sure, but she thought she saw a tear roll down his cheek.

"If you need to talk to anyone, ever," she touched his shoulder, "I'm here." She felt a shiver run through his body. He took off, leaving her alone, without looking back. Lois knew that Perry had been right, so had the cop, so had the teenagers. It was Superman alright, but he was afraid of something, and Lois could tell it wasn't anything in the world outside. Lois stood, looking out at the city.

She went to bed about a half hour later, and spent another hour restless, twisting and turning, before finally falling asleep. There were a few times that night, if she had woken up and looked out her window, she would have seen Superman looking in at her, a look of anguish on his face.

Part Three - Humanity
1.

There are very few places in the "modernized" world that Bruce Wayne wasn't recognized. Had he flown into Metropolis, the airport would have been flocked by two or three dozen reporters, questioning his visit. This meant, of course, that Bruce Wayne wasn't going to fly into Metropolis. Elmer Drummond, on the other hand, walked through the airport without notice.

Wayne had read about sudden change in Superman's behavior and decided to take visit to Metropolis. The trip to 344 Clinton St. proved to be useless, but Wayne had been sure it would be. There was very little chance that Superman would be continuing to lead both his lives in this condition. Wayne knew what that was like, having gone through it himself.

Had Superman known about the new visitor in Metropolis, he certainly would have tracked him down. Instead, it was ten thirty before Superman knew he wasn't the only thing in the Metropolis night. He was flying over the docks when he heard screams coming from below. As he descended to investigate, he found two thugs hanging from a lamppost, with a note pinned to them. Superman took the note down and read it:

We need to talk, midnight, Midshipman Bolitho's quarter.

It was signed with a bat. Superman crumbled up the note, turning it into powder, and took off.

The next hour and a half passed without much incident, Metropolis seemed to be going to bed earlier these days. Superman entered Clark Kent's apartment unseen and was apparently alone in the darkened living room. But he knew better. He could hear breathing, and when he turned, Batman stepped out of the shadows.

"What are you doing here?"

"Showing my concern."

"This has nothing to do with you, Batman."

"You told me once that'd you be keeping an eye on me," Batman's voice remained monotone, "to make sure I didn't ruin for the rest of you."

"I don't need checking up on."

Batman had expected that Superman would be less than pleased by the visit, and had come prepared, just in case. "Metropolis isn't like Gotham, something else you told me, Superman. You and I have different methods, it wouldn't work if you used mine or vice versa."

"What if I was wrong?"

"What?"

"What if Metropolis and Gotham aren't any different, what if it's about the people being the same?"

"They aren't the same."

The problem with being Superman was that he didn't have many people to turn to for advice, Ma and Pa knew only so much. He felt it would be uncomfortable to talk to Lois about it, and other than that, he lacked any reliable people in his lives. On the other hand, while Batman wasn't exactly a friend, he had always proven reliable.
"Tomorrow morning at nine, Antoinette's in Lafayette. No costumes."

With that, Superman was gone. Batman wasn't sure what had happened to him, but he was going to find out.

2.

Never one to waste information, as soon as Lex found out what Kent's message had meant, he tried to decide how to use it. Having it found out by "public" means would be devastating to Becker, but it lacked the panache that Lex liked. So, having decided to in through the side door, he sent a car for Carolyn Becker.

Apparently, the car had found her in the middle of her liquid breakfast, and didn't have much difficulty convincing her that she should come along. Lex was worried that he wouldn't be able to successfully communicate the message to her. It wasn't to inform her, since she was well aware of what was happening. Lex hoped that the threat of public exposure would scare her into action.

His office was a little too daunting for the situation, so he waited in a large meeting area, one that had been specifically designed to calm visitors. Mrs. Becker arrived with a White Russian in her hand, Lex had told his assistant to have one ready - her drinking favorites were one of the things Lex had known before.

"Hello, Mrs. Becker." Lex extended his hand. She looked him over before shaking it.

"I'm not used to being interrupted during my breakfast, Mr. Luthor."

"Please, call me Lex," he replied, ever aware that his charm far extended that of Becker's. Given that she had not been so worn down when she married (Lex had been invited to the wedding as a publicity measure, his declination was one as well), it was a surprise that Becker's charm would have worked on her. Lex knew most of her past, and was a good enough judge of character to know that when faced with public embarrassment, her actions would be predictable enough. As long as Lex gave her only way out. "Have a seat."

She looked over the meeting area, deciding that it wasn't that bad at all, and found a seat. Lex sat down across from her. "Why did you want to see me?"

"Well, Mrs. Becker," Lex gave her his most harmless smile. "May I call you Carolyn?"

"I suppose so." She looked very uncomfortable, which Lex could understand.

"I wanted to talk to you about your daughter."

The rest of their meeting went exactly as Lex planned, although his assistants brought in fresh White Russians for Mrs. Becker a little early each of the four times. She left in tears, but Lex sent along one of his best female executives to "console" her. Lex made sure not to ask for anything, just to make sure she knew that Lex knew what was going on. The executive would further point her in the right direction, Lex had already told her to talk about what she would do if it were her husband. That she was never married would hamper her performance at all, Lex was sure.

3.

The Lafayette section of Metropolis was like the French Quarter of New Orleans. It looked and sounded the same. It was populated similarly as well, a mix of tourists, and people whose income depended on them - whether it be store owners, restauranteurs, or criminals. So, the tourists having breakfast at Antoinette's were not at all interested in the two gentlemen having a heated conversation in French. One of them was blond, with a shaggy beard, the other had oily black hair and a gold earring. The tourists never would have guessed that they weren't even speaking French.

"What about Kent?" the blond haired man asked.

His friend shrugged.

"You aren't thinking this through."

"What would you have done?"

The blond haired man didn't answer for a while. "This isn't about me."

His friend glanced around. "I'm uncomfortable."

"This was your idea," the blond haired man told him. "What's going on?"

The dark haired man told him about Becker. The blond haired man flinched at the story, one of the few things that could get any response out of him.

"There was nothing I could do. If I had gone in, I would have had to justify peeking in on people." The dark haired man shook his head. "I put myself ahead of that little girl, protecting my other life. So where's the value in that, what's the point in doing this if I have to be concerned about protecting myself?"

"Is what you want to give up on Kent?" his friend asked him, "I was under the impression that you liked him."

"I'm both, or at least, I thought I was."

"Changing your methods isn't going to solve that problem." He could tell something else had happened. "What else?"

"I put Lex Luthor on the track of finding out."

"Luthor? Why?"

"I figured he could do something about it."

A passing car had on its radio, the news was talking about a terrorist situation on a plane landing at Metropolis International. The blond haired man blinked and his companion was gone. Which was just as well, since he decided that his friend needed to work out the situation for himself.

4.

When Superman arrived at the airport, he found Lois standing next to the plane, surrounded by police and federal agents, while her sister, Lucy, was being taken to the hospital. Lois was looking around when she saw Superman looking at her from above.

All Clark could think about was that Superman was the wrong one to comfort Lois, but given the distance to the nearest hospital, Lucy needed him. Superman descended to the ground next to Lois.

"What happened?"

Lois was a mess. "Some terrorist blinded her with something. Now they can't find anybody with any training for this and something about Mercy not having anybody either."

"Lois."

She looked at him. He smiled: "Don't worry, I'll get her to the hospital."

Superman walked over to the ambulance, past the medics, and opened the back. "Lucy? You ready to go flying again?"

It took Lois an hour and a half to get to the hospital. The doctors were doing the best they could, but couldn't figure out what the chemical was. Superman was long
gone.

In the lounge, Lois watched the news report on the suicide of Nicholas Becker. His wife had found him dead, a gun in his mouth. Lois didn't even notice the newsworthiness of the story, her stomach in knots as she waited for the doctors.

5.

Superman had checked in at the hospital and seen Lois, in tears, a complete wreck. He realized that Superman could do very little for her, and Clark Kent went home to Smallville.

His father was sitting on the front porch, reading a newspaper, when he descended from the sky above. "Son."

"Pa," Clark sat down and looked at his father. "Whatever I thought was the right thing to do wasn't it.

"It wouldn't change anything to harden up my methods. There isn't anything that I can do, not the rest of the time. But if I'm ever in that situation again, I can't think of myself. If I have to give up my identity, then I'll just have to do that."

Jonathan Kent nodded. "Go see your mother, she's been worried about you."

His son smiled and went into the house. When he left a few hours later, it was in a fresh costume and cape. The cowlick he had had since he first grew hair was back as well. When Jonathan and Martha watched their son fly off into the sky, they knew that he was on the right track. Superman had returned.

6.

Lois had been asleep in an uncomfortable chair for hours before she woke to the smell of coffee. She opened her eyes to see Clark sitting next to her, holding a cup of coffee out to her. She took it from him.

"Thanks."

"No problem. How's Lucy?"

"They don't know, I mean, she's blind, but, they don't know anything."

Lois was half done with her coffee before she realized that Clark hadn't been around for a while. "Where've you been?"

"Emergency back home."

"Is everybody all right?"

Clark nodded. "Yeah."

"You're probably fired."

"I'd imagine so," Clark replied. "I'm seeing Perry in a half hour."

"A half hour, what time is it?" Lois looked at her watch. "I've been asleep all night."

"I'll go see Perry and then we'll talk."

"Us?"

"Yeah."

"Okay." Lois was a little surprised, not that Clark would do it, he was an all right guy, for a complete nincompoop. What surprised her was that she wanted to talk to him. She noticed him staring at her: "What are you trying to see?"

Clark shrugged: "Nothing."

He stood up.

"Come get me at my apartment, I need to shower. About nine-thirty."

"I'll see you then, Lois." Clark walked out of the office. At about that same time, Cynthia, Luthor's assistant, found that she couldn't find those glasses. It only bothered her for a second. Her employer, on the other hand, would have been most disturbed if he knew about the importance of their disappearance.

7.

Perry had been waiting in his office for the last hour. When he'd heard that Clark Kent had been offered a job by Lex Luthor of all people, Perry decided to find out exactly what was going on. Kent was a great reporter and had enough of a following that his disappearance, if explained, would be, after the necessary threats, excused. But, if Kent was even considering working for Luthor …

The knock on the door brought Perry out of his thoughts. There was Kent, on time as always. Perry waved him in. "Sit down, Kent."

Kent sat down, looking nervous.

"I hear you got a job offer from Lex Luthor."

"I did?"

"That's what I hear, somebody in the Gotham Times said that Luthor was trying to get you as his new press liaison."

"Not that I know of, Mr. White."

"No?"

Clark shook his head. "I don't think I'd work for Lex Luthor."

"Good answer, son. Now, where were you?"

Clark nodded and told Perry the story that his mother had told him to tell. Of course, it worked. A few hundred miles away, someone at the Gotham Times was opening up an envelope with a thousand dollars in it, it paid to have friends.

Epilogue - " … up in the sky …"

Lois was standing at her window. Lucy had finally gone to sleep, after the sedatives had kicked in. The doctors were optimistic at least, as long as they could find out what the chemical solution had been. Lois opened the door and walked out onto the balcony.

She didn't see him at first, there was so much to see. But, there he was, standing off in the air, in the distance. It was funny, there he was, Superman, and Lois was thinking about Clark Kent. There must be something wrong with me, she thought. She smiled to herself as he waved and flew off. Clark Kent or Superman, God, what was wrong with her.

All characters are ™ DC Comics
This story is © 1999 by Andrew Wickliffe.

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