Knowing that she would die if he didn’t do something, he pulled away.
“No,” the woman pleaded, trying desperately to keep holding him.
It was effortless for him to keep going. Less than effortless. It barely registered to him the woman’s words or her actions. He’d barely felt her touch anyway. His mind was completely focused on what he needed to do. He didn’t really have a choice. Either he did this, or she died.
No, there was no choice.
So, he pulled away from the crying human female whose hair was the wrong color, already flying barely inches off the ground. Speeding toward the kryptonite-tipped lance that had oh so recently been piercing his own side.
The female new-comer heroine had wrapped the abomination in some sort of glowing rope. She cried out in exertion, using all her strength to hold the creature in place to the best of her ability, yanking on the other end. Yet, her feet still slid. The strength of twenty men, perhaps more, he’d estimated from his brief contact, and still she had to yield ground.
He saw Batman out of the corner of his eye, lining up a weapon. Being human, whatever the man had built was already as much as he could contribute to this fight. He wouldn’t last more than a second or two if he directly confronted the beast.
So, once again, Clark was forced to conclude that he was all that stood between this man-made abomination and her. His grip on the lance tightened and he pushed aside his nausea. The increasing pain wasn’t important right now.
A part of his mind acknowledged that pain wasn’t going to be important at all after this.
He sped up as much as he was able over the short distance, attempting to use physics in his favor. Inertial force. Angling himself to put as small a target facing the beast as possible, thus decreasing the surface area that would make impact, and consequently the lance tip would penetrate even deeper.
As soon as he hit, the monster catching all his momentum with barely a single step backward, he twisted the lance with a sharp turn of his wrist. Doing as much damage as possible in the millisecond collision.
He barely felt the lightning that instantly exploded out of the titan upon impact. It wasn’t important. He didn’t notice when the heroine lost her footing entirely. The cause of releasing the monster’s arms had the effect of a sharp bone lance piercing his own chest. He screamed in agony, but he didn’t lose his grip on the kryptonite lance.
It was her face that he saw as he reached forward to take hold of a protruding spike. Her golden-red hair brushing against his face as he nuzzled her neck.
He yanked himself forward, drilling the bone even farther, widening his own wound dangerously. Her hazel eyes crinkled in laughter. Laughing at him again.
His arm pushed the kryptonite lance forward even as he pulled himself up. But he didn’t see the beast. No. He saw her eyes darkening to sapphire blue in arousal as his lips found that particular sweet spot at the point of her shoulder. His teeth grazed lightly again and again, drawing such sounds from her. Sounds he craved to hear again.
He didn’t feel the column of intense heat exploding out of the abomination, out of the wound site, directly toward his form. Didn’t feel as the monster’s grip reflexively tightened around him in its last dying moments. No. He only felt a distant echo of its continuing presence. Barely registered the odd, new sensation of what must be broken bones, followed immediately by punctured organs.
Instead, he felt her soft skin beneath his fingertips. Tasted her flesh as he used his tongue to gently kiss each mole. Felt satisfaction as he successfully redirected her self-consciousness into pleading passion. Heard her moans of pleasure rise and fall with each stroke of his fingers.
Then… an endless sea of nothingness…
She wasn’t here with him. He knew that. He also knew that it was alright. Her absence, at least in this case, was just fine. He didn’t mind.
This wouldn’t be the first time she had made him wait.
. . .
. . . .
. . . . .
. . . . . .
. . . . . . .
. . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . .
. . . . LIGHT!
There was no warning.
No clue or hint of expectation.
From complete oblivion to an explosion.
It overwhelmed him instantly.
Where was he? Why did the nothingness pull at him? He didn’t like it.
But no…the nothingness didn’t have sound. Didn’t have light. Didn’t have cold.
This could not be the nothingness.
Which meant she could be here… He lost his battle with the pulling—gravity—and was jolted sideways and downward. He landed on a surface—ground, concrete—and stepped awkwardly only a time or two before he managed to regain his equilibrium.
He stared at the chunks of large rocks—broken, statue, big head?—that lay in front of a curving, layered wall filled with chiseled names. His mind filtered the data coming through his eyes, cataloging information and reminding himself of things that had once been important to him. However, these remembered new words were not in the forefront of his thoughts.
Where was she?
Why wasn’t she here?
He’d waited for her.
He’d been patient.
So why wasn’t she here?
Had something happened to her?
Kept her from him?
Who would hold her against her will?
Who had the ability?
Sharp metallic thunks reached his ears, making him turn around. One black-haired female in a dark-toned red, silver, and blue armored outfit he vaguely recalled seeing before. “He’s back,” she whispered in a tone he couldn’t identify. He heard her clearly despite the volume she used and the distance between them. There was an older boy in a red jumpsuit. A younger man barely identifiable beneath such metal covering his body. And an older male, non-human, carrying a five-pointed trident.
As they made no hostile moves toward him, he simply stared back at them. However, he’d automatically angled his body to present them with the smallest possible target. Other than the woman, he didn’t recognize them. Had no reason to trust them.
Why was the boy smiling at him?
He switched through newly-remembered modes of sight. Focusing on the trident-carrying oldest male, he filtered through seeing bones, muscles, electrical impulses.
Where was she?
Why wasn’t she here?
So very long.
“He’s not alright.” The oldest male stated, glancing to the side briefly before focusing on the possible threat. Smart.
He shifted his gaze along the line of four, rotating through visual modes. X-ray. Skeletons. Most normal, but the one on the end had metal bones. How odd.
Infrared. And some sort of radioactive central power source.
“He’s scanning us,” the metal-skeleton said in an odd reverberating tonality. It was either a good guess, or it had some way to detect his visual keys.
Was she unable to come to him?
Who had the ability to contain her?
“Arthur, you need to relax. You’re adrenaline’s spiking.”
“Because he’s not alright.”
“Should we bow?” the boy asked. Of the four, the boy was the most innocent. He could hear it in those few words. “Or, or show our bellies?”
Who’d want to hold her?
Who’d know her significance to him?
He took a single step forward, almost a challenge. Wondering what they’d do. The one with the metal skeleton began to twitch in sharp jerks as his power core began to react to the threat he posed just by standing. Smart machine.
“Just think happy thoughts, Victor!” the boy again. Yes, innocent. Not a threat.
The other three however…
Were they keeping her from him?
He tilted his body out of the way as the machine finally won its battle over the human mind and fired a plasma bolt. He turned to watch the weaponfire and saw as the stone tablet behind him shattered. Slowly, he looked back at the group.
His mind, for the first time since the explosion of sound and light after the endless nothingness, was quiet. It was a menacing silence.
She would have called it ‘cold rage’.
“Kal-El, no!” the black-haired beauty yelled.
However, his rage wasn’t cold. It was an intense flame that he aimed and released; enough energy to incinerate flesh to ash. The machine blocked it; managed to angle a rapidly-generated shield and allow the turning force to push the beam away. He couldn’t stop his plasma vision before a vehicle was cut in half lengthwise.
“He’s confused. He doesn’t know who he is.”
He knew who he was.
Or was it that he wasn’t him without her?
“Pet Sematary,” the boy was afraid, eyes wide behind the half-mask.
Yet, they were here and she wasn’t.
He picked up a large boulder and threw it at the woman. She wasn’t her! How dare this dark-haired woman be here and she wasn’t?!
The woman almost casually deflected the projectile with a sword she drew with practiced ease. “Arthur, we need to restrain him.”
Oh, so they thought to hold him now? There was only one who could accomplish such a fete, and she wasn’t here.
Where was she?
He lost several moments as his heart screamed a protest at this injustice. “Kal-El,” the woman’s voice caught his attention again, “the Last Son of Krypton.” His brow furrowed in small confusion. Krypton? Kal-El? “Remember who you are.” Such calm tones as she spoke.
Just like she spoke sometimes.
Who was he without her?
How dare they try to keep her from him!
“Tell me who y—” He grabbed the glowing rope and yanked. The dark-haired woman cried out as she was pulled directly into his grasp. He didn’t grab her flesh—a piece of his mind yelled in protest at the idea of physically harming any female—but still held her armor in such a way as to pull her bodily off her feet.
He wasn’t sure what he would’ve done next, but wasn’t bothered by decisions as the others began to attack. He caught the trident with his other hand. Then the metal skeleton grabbed his biceps, trying to break his hold on the first two.
The boy took that millisecond to move faster than a human should’ve been able. White lightning streaked over his form as he tried to maneuver around, get behind him. To do what, he did not know, but he would not give the child a chance either. He knew he lost moments of awareness as he defended himself.
He turned, attracted by the sound of a new player, then was momentarily frozen. “I know you,” he whispered. Blasphemy. Sacrilege. The first sounds he’d made in so very long…and they hadn’t been said to her.
This man entirely clad in black was an enemy. A powerful enemy. This one had hurt him. He took steps forward.
A clang as the woman landed from above in front of him. Her voice was determined, but also sad. Resigned. “Please. Don’t make me do this.”
A piece of his returning mind told him that this woman would never hurt an innocent. She defended the weak. Yet she was standing between him and his enemy. A man powerful enough to keep her from him. A man who not only had the ability to do so, but hated him enough to hurt her.
She wasn’t here.
It must be because his enemy held her.
He charged forward. She raised her forearms to block his blow, but seemed surprised when he wrenched them apart and butted his head against her own. She gave a small cry of pain, took a half-second to recover, then hit him back in the same manner even harder. He scowled at her and drove her into the ground hard enough to make her grunt again. She stayed in the resulting crater.
With her out of his way, he stepped and hit his enemy with such force to dent the side of the vehicle that was hit. “Alfred, I need the big gun.” He stopped the words as he grabbed his enemy around the chin and squeezed.
He fought against the pulling of gravity and they both rose into the air, his enemy dangling from his hand. “You did this,” he hissed.
“I had to.” Harsh words. Harsh timbre.
He was back to cold rage. “You won’t let me live.” His enemy had created a weapon with the singular purpose of ending his life. All because this black-clad human thought he was owed something. Revenge? Apparently, his death hadn’t been vengeance enough. “You won’t let me die.”
“The world needs you.”
She lived in this world. Was she in danger?
At the very least, this enemy posed a threat to him…and to her. “But does it need you?” he growled. He pulled his enemy closer and repeated words he remembered. “Tell me… Do you bleed?” The brown eyes looking at him held pain, but not fear. He wanted his enemy to feel fear. Wanted him to know what he’d felt at those same words.
“Clark?” A voice. Female. Not the dark-haired armor-clad one though.
He turned to look as a woman hurried toward him. Golden-red hair shifted in waves down past her shoulders. Blue eyes stared at him in fear and hope. “Clark.” Her breath came in deep gulps. “Please.”
His brows furrowed in confusion. The hair was the wrong shade. The eyes held no green. Her voice a third too high. Who was she?
Why was she here, and yet she wasn’t?
She must have seen his expression for worry entered her voice. “Clark?”
His enemy must have her.
Kept her from him!
His brows released as he refocused on the man he held. He squeezed his fingers a degree more. He wanted to see fear in those eyes before they greeted oblivion.
His whole body jerked, every piece of his being turning to face the new female in a nanosecond. The tone was familiar. A question. A call. A name. He knew that voice! The timbre. The cadence. Behind that one word, such emotion.
There were tears on her cheeks as she looked up at him. “Well? Are you coming down?” her voice broke several times.
Memories collided with reality and his fingers opened to unceremoniously drop the black-clad human. Now that she was here, the male wasn’t important. He dropped himself to the grass directly in front of her.
Her smaller hand shook slightly as it came up to cup his cheek, as if afraid he’d disappear. He closed his eyes as he once again felt her touch. Smelled her skin.
He had gone from oblivion to sound and light…but now he had COLOR… She was the only one who gave his life color. Meaning. “Hope,” he whispered.
She choked on a sob, the tears having never stopped falling. Nodded. “Idiot.” So much emotion in that one word. An insult long since become an endearment.
“Hope,” he whispered again. Pulled her into his chest and wrapped his arms around her. Secure. Safe. “My Hope.”
She held him back so very tightly. “My idiot.” She took a deep breath through her nose, breathing in his unique scent. Trying to convince herself he was really here. “Take us home, Idiot.” She softly ordered, as close to a plea as she would ever get. “Take me to bed.”
He gave a short soft laugh, leaning his cheek against her hair. Felt the strands caress his skin. He gently lifted them into the air. “As my queen commands.” He turned his head just so to brush his lips against hers. He groaned. The taste of her exploded across his tongue.
Exploded his memory…
Chapter 2: Meetings
First Meetings – The Daily Planet
“…show her what it means. Blue. Blue! Fucking hell in a handbasket how can you be so blind you can’t tell what fucking blue is? Damned idiots…” the voice kept going on like this, using profanity that would make his mother wash his mouth out with soap. It was an obviously feminine voice, even while it used harsh words too low to be heard by a normal human.
Clark followed the cussing to the small group which included his desk. “Hello?” he asked politely. The feet he had finally tracked down stopped their small movements meant to help leverage whoever was doing whatever underneath Lois Lane’s desk. “Ummm…do you need help down there?” he called in the same tone, carefully setting down his briefcase.
The feet – blue jean covered legs with well-used black sneakers – resumed their shuffling movements to help the woman angle her upper body, which had yet to move out from under the other reporter’s desk. “No. Thank you.” Her voice was louder in her reply. Polite, but only slightly less harsh than her cursing. “I’m just trying to fix Mrs Lane’s printer issue.”
“Oh.” Clark shifted his glasses higher on his nose as he continued to gaze down at the pair of feet. “Yeah, she’s been complaining about it for the last week or so. I remember. I bet she’ll really appreciate your help.”
“Wouldn’t need fixing if the damnedable woman did what any fucking tech told her the first damned time she asked,” back to a barely audible mutter that Clark pretended not to hear. Louder she said, “Uh huh. That’s the plan.”
“Hey Kent!” Lois came smiling over. Her tone filled with humor when she spotted where his attention was directed. “I see you’ve met the new IT tech.”
Clark nodded. “Indeed, I have. Though we’ve yet to be introduced, she has nice shoes.”
Lois snorted. “You wouldn’t know a nice pair of shoes if they bit you, farm boy. That’s Faith Ridwell.”
“Not even close you moron,” the mutter from under the desk was again too soft for human ears. “I may wear three year old shoes, but they’re comfortable, don’t make noise when I walk, aren’t annoying, and I can run in them. None of which you can say, you harridan. Shit on a shingle! How can you have three cables going absolutely fucking nowhere and another two that aren’t even supposed to be here?!”
“How much longer will it be, Faith?” Lois called down. “I’ve got a deadline today.”
Mutters, “Jesus H. Christ, she has no idea the hell that is down here. I only got here ten minutes ago! Who does she think I am, Saint Hope of the Impossible?” Louder she answered Lois, “I suggest you either borrow someone else’s computer, or go find a pen.”
“Pin? I don’t have a pin code for anything, let alone a computer. Unless you mean the front security door? Are there any available computers not in use?” Lois was obviously confused.
“P-E-N. Noun. A writing implement used to apply ink to a surface, usually paper. You could also use a pencil, though statistically pens are easier to find.”
Lois’ face flamed and her mouth tightened in anger. She didn’t speak for a full minute before she turned to him. “Clark?”
“Yeah,” he answered the unasked question and handed her a few blank pages of copy paper from the instigating printer’s drawer, as well as the nearest black pen.
“I’ll be in the break room when it’s ready,” she gritted, stalking off.
“Uh huh, keep dreaming Lady McFuckUp.” A sigh. “God, where the hell does this one go? Seriously, who did this install? I’m gonna make them watch Barney & Friends…” A pause. “Did no one fucking label anything?!” All of which was said under the woman’s breath.
“Are you sure I can’t help?” Clark asked, kneeling down to get a better angle to see who was speaking. Now that Lois was off with no chance of returning anytime soon, he didn’t feel as self-conscious in his observation.
“Not unless you can find me the original plans for this…mess,” she said the last word as if it were an expletive.
He nodded his understanding and suggested instead, “Sorry, but I can keep you company while you work.”
“Don’t you have your own deadline, Mr Kent?”
His eyebrows rose at her knowing his name, then remembered that Lois had said it earlier. Earlier by several minutes in fact. This woman could multitask well and retain information. Such was unusual enough by human standards to be notable. “I’m actually early for once. It’s no trouble.”
“Fine. Suit yourself. Here, hold this.” A hand came out clutching a bundle of wires, both thick and thin, with at least three different ends he could see.
Obediently, Clark grabbed the wires. “So, are you going to introduce yourself?”
A head half appeared, looking at him sideways. Her coloring was remarkably similar to Lois Lane’s, but a shade or two off. Her eyes were more hazel and her hair darker. She gazed at him for a second or two, blinking with incredulousness, before disappearing back behind and under again. Her hands had never left whatever they were holding out of his line of sight. “Hope.”
“How long have you worked at the Daily Planet, Hope?” he prompted after she didn’t continue.
“What time is it?”
He looked at his watch. “9:48am.”
He blinked back at her. “Pardon?”
“I’ve worked here for forty-eight minutes. Officially, at least.” Her body stretched as she reached for something. “There you are you stubborn, vindictive cretin! I’ve got you now!” Her hand thrust a wire at him again, “Hold this and don’t lose it in the ones I already gave you.”
“Yes ma’am.” He smirked at her, amused at her in spite of the language. “I’m surprised you’re doing anything other than paperwork on your first day.”
“Well,” she grunted as she stretched into a tight place, reaching for something again out of her reach above her head based on what her feet were doing to help get her in the required position, “Mr. White wanted his star reporter to have her printer back. I’m currently the only IT person in the building. And HR managed to snag me when I came in at 7.”
He blinked. “Why’d you come in so early?”
“I wanted to see how much work I had ahead of me. That and to make sure I knew where the essentials were.” Her hand came back out of the desk, this time empty. He handed her the last wire she’d given him to hold. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” he replied automatically. “That was the one you wanted, correct?”
“Yup,” she said. “Almost done down here, I think.”
“Nice. Lois will be happy.”
“I said ‘done down here’. After the cables are connected to actual places instead of thin air, I have to make sure everything is installed properly and run test pages, et cetera.” She made a small humming sound in the back of her throat. “Gotcha, you little dickens! Now screw you…and…stay. That should hopefully be the right connection input…” She began to butt-crawl backward, her hands coming up to feel where the edge of the desk lay in order to avoid hitting it as she rose.
Without the darkness of the shadows, he noticed her hair was lighter, and closer to Lois’, than he’d thought at first. Her eyes were more green than he’d seen too. He smiled at her and held out a hand. “Clark Kent.”
“Hope Kramer.” She dropped his hand just as quickly as she’d grabbed it; practically falling into the available rolling chair to begin messing with Lois’ computer.
“Out of curiosity, do you always swear so much?”
She glanced at him, surprised. “You heard that? Sorry.” She refocused on the screen, her right hand on the mouse and left on the keyboard. “I try to make sure it’s a low enough volume so no one hears me. It’s a way to vent frustration. Otherwise, I tend to start doing things better left to the imagination.”
“Erasing someone’s identity because they put a credit card in their disk drive. Uploading a virus to forever make a computer slower than an eight-and-a-half inch floppy. Cramming peanut butter into their air vent because they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Printing 72-point font signs labelling everything ‘do not attempt to fix yourself’ in capital letters. You know, the classics.”
He couldn’t help himself; he laughed.
She smiled at him as she closed the windows she’d been using and pushed back from the desk. “Mrs. Lane should be able to print now. Please don’t attempt to fix it yourselves if it still doesn’t work.”
He chuckled at the reiteration. “How about turning it off and back on again?”
“Only if you want to push your luck, Mr. Kent.” She stood and began to walk away backwards, still smiling at him.
“Clark,” he corrected. All she did was nod and turn right-way around. When she finally made it around a corner, he got to his feet to go get Lois.
Perry White gave a loud exclamation, drawing everyone’s attention in the immediate vicinity, right before there was a muted half-explosion and smoke began to billow from his desktop.
Clark was the first to his boss’s side, pulling him away from the small flames. A short, sharp exhale of superhuman force denied it oxygen long enough to go out. There was already a smell of smoke in the air, along with electrical discharge. He was surprised that the smoke alarms hadn’t come on, but was grateful. He didn’t want to be drying out the entire floor after the sprinklers came on for such a small fire. “Are you alright, sir?”
“Yes, I’m fine Kent. Thank you.” The man growled, understandably irritable. He picked up the phone, dialed an extension from memory, and yelled, “Kramer, get up here!”
“Wha--?” Clark heard briefly through the phone before Perry hung up.
“Are you sure you’re alright Mr. White?”
“I’m fine! But this damned thing just lost all of tomorrow’s layout!”
“Didn’t you save?” Hope asked as she entered the office at almost a run. “Or at least have auto-save enabled?” She sniffed and jerked. “What the hell happened?” It had been almost seven months since Clark first met her, but she didn’t look any different. Same jeans and sneakers. Hair in the same style as before: pulled back in a tight French braid.
“How the hell am I supposed to know?” He screamed at her. “It’s your job to keep these things in top shape, damn it! Now I’ve lost hours of work due to your negligence!”
Hope’s mouth tightened in anger as she froze, looking at her boss with narrowed eyes. If her eyes could glare daggers, Perry White would’ve been cut to ribbons. “Sir,” she said through clenched teeth, “did you back up to the cloud?”
“I don’t have time for that!” he retorted.
“Fine. I’ll do what I can.”
“Huh,” he snorted derisively. “You do that, Kramer. Or you’re fired!” He marched out.
Clark blinked, shocked by the interchange. “Did something happen between you and Mr. White?” It seemed to be an extreme reaction over something relatively small. Inconvenient, but not a firing offense.
He’d seen her briefly in the seven months she’d worked at The Planet, but it was only the usual required pleasantries since their first meeting. While she intrigued him, he’d been too busy with one thing or another, either as Clark Kent or Superman, to take the time to have another conversation. So, something could’ve easily happened between the techy and director and Clark not know.
Though gossip being what it was, he should’ve still heard about it. Unless Hope was better at keeping things to herself than one would think, being a staff member of a prominent paper. Clark already knew that White was good at keeping secrets. As the editor/director of The Daily Planet, it was practically a job requirement.
Hope visibly tried to calm as she took her place in the chair. “I apparently have ‘unreasonable demands’ regarding updating software and equipment.” Her eyes widened in shock when she saw the melted wires. “Good grief, this could’ve gotten out of hand in a hurry.” She looked up at him with an expression he couldn’t quite put his finger on, but said nothing. She pulled out a handful of bits of wire from a pocket and a Swiss Army knife from another as she focused back to the pile of mangled plastic.
“You came prepared.”
“Well, as much as he likes to yell and blame me, once I figured out he wouldn’t upgrade until things literally fell apart, I began to carry around common replacement parts and tools.” With quick efficiency, she spliced the new wires where the melted made been. Then she attempted to restart the computer. “Come on, sweetie, you can do it,” she crooned.
“No profanity?” he teased.
“Nah. It’s not the computer’s fault that Mr. White won’t listen. It’s doing the best it can with what it’s got. Just like everyone, I suppose.” He blinked at the philosophical segue as her fingers flew over the keys. “Ah ha, there we go.” A document came up, presumably the one White had been working on when the meltdown occurred. She immediately saved and transferred the file to the Planet’s cloud storage system she herself had originally set up for the company. Clark had heard, and overheard, many thanking the system in the time sense its inception. If anyone knew who’d thought it up or maintained it, he’d bet Mrs. Kramer would have a lot more friends than she currently did. Making firing her an almost protest-worthy offense. However, he doubted that Hope thought in political terms like that.
“There! Now…what made you go nuclear?” she muttered to herself as she began to hunt through coding.
“Can I help?” Clark offered.
She blinked, focusing on him with a noticeable effort. Sighed. “Sorry, but finding what caused this will take a lot of concentration. Quiet helps.”
He smiled, indicating he wasn’t offended. “I understand. I’ll let you work.” He left, gently closing the office door behind him to block as much sound as it was capable. He doubted she noticed, having already started glaring at the screen yet again.
With an inward smile, he wandered to the coffee machine and decided to drop a juicy piece of gossip or three…
“MRS. LANE! If you don’t stop deliberately trying to bypass my system, I’ll make you fix your own issues!” Hope Kramer’s voice yelled over even the usual din.
“I need it to research for my story!” Lois shouted back.
“You have no idea what programs are on the dark web, Mrs. Lane. Those hackers won’t even bother laughing as they melt it all down!”
“You’re being overly dramatic!”
“No, I’m being smart, you curious—”
“Woah!” Clark jumped into the middle of the two so similar appearing females who were facing against one another with postures suggestive of a real bullpen. That or an arena. “Ladies!”
He knew by Hope’s tone that she’d been about to cuss Lois to the best of her considerable ability, probably resulting in a loss of employment. Perry liked Lois too much to tolerate such insubordination, no matter how fast and efficient—and liked by most, if in a tertiary fashion, due to his own gossip-dropping comments—Hope had become in the year since she joined The Planet. He also knew Lois well enough that the reporter wasn’t going to back down, no matter what anyone said to the contrary.
The rest of the bullpen had stopped to watch the quickly escalating fight between two beautiful women. Clark heard one group on the far side of the room taking bets. Several were muttering about popcorn.
Hope continued to glare at Lois before saying in tightly controlled tones, “Will you at least let me isolate your computer from the network so that when you do get a Lorainna Bobbitt virus it won’t kill the entire building?”
“That sounds reasonable. Lois?” Clark said.
“Fine! Take her side!” the woman stalked off.
“I’m not taking—” he sighed, cutting himself off as she never slowed. “That went well.”
Hope snorted derisively. “That woman is a—” it was her turn to cut herself off, glaring at the desktop screen as she set about doing whatever it was she intended.
He watched her for several long minutes, listening to the sharp staccato of keys. The rest of the room had groaned at the end of their entertainment and moved back to doing their jobs. So when he asked the question, he was reasonably sure only she could hear him or was even paying attention to their small corner of the room anymore. “Why don’t you like Lois?”
Hope shot him a quick look. “She’s an excellent reporter.” As if that explained everything.
She continued, “She’s a terrible friend. Everything is always about her.”
“That’s not true.”
“That’s not a bad thing.”
“For a reporter. A friend should be able to not just keep secrets, but also let you keep some to yourself. Not push you and keep pushing until you tell her everything. There’s no reason for her to know everything about a person just because she thinks she has the right.”
Clark grimaced, conceding the point. He waited. “What else?”
Hope glanced at him. “That’s not enough? Ego-centric. Curious to a fault. She’s also an adrenaline junkie, searching for that next big high of danger. Someday it’s going to get her killed.” She sighed, suddenly drained of her anger. “Lois Lane is an absolutely brilliant reporter. She’s married to her work. Her entire world is the news. Which means she’s leading on that poor bastard, and I doubt he has a clue.”
Clark blinked at her. “Which poor bastard?” Lois had many admirers, but most had figured out that she wasn’t interested and had gone searching elsewhere for romance. The only one left was…
“Superman,” Hope said as if hearing his thoughts. He froze in shock. The whole world was aware of Lois Lane’s relationship with Superman, due to Zod’s interference, but most hadn’t thought there was more than a passing acquaintance once the first article came out saying such.
She sighed again as if answering a question. “I know. Sometimes I’m not sure if she even realizes what she’s doing to the guy.”
“What… What do you mean?” the words almost came on their own without his thought or approval.
“Think about it. When do you see Superman with Lois?” They both knew the answer: when he was rescuing her.
“That doesn’t mean that’s all they do together.” Clark countered.
“True, but when does Lois talk about Superman? It isn’t ever anything mundane. That they hung out one night watching movies or went to Paris to watch fireworks or something similar. No, it’s always what he did for her; helped her with her next story, or agreed to another interview, or rescued her from whatever situation she’d gotten herself in to last.”
Clark’s mouth opened, but nothing came out.
“Lois Lane doesn’t dream about growing old and settling down. I doubt she thinks that far into her future. She’s the best at what she does because it’s her passion. Which also means she’ll likely die young while doing what she loves. Which is great for her, but terrible for her family and friends. I pity the man who marries her, because it’ll probably take him years before he realizes the truth, if he ever does.”
“Which is?” his voice was a bare whisper.
“That he’ll always be second-best. He’ll never be her first priority,” Hope glanced at him and grimaced. “I know that I’m a minority in my opinion about the woman. Feel free to ignore me.”
Clark had nothing more to say. Couldn’t say more. Instead, he settled at his desk and spent the rest of the day staring at his computer screen. Thinking about her words. Words which rang too close to the truth for comfort.
And as much as he wished to deny them, no matter how much he wracked his eidetic memory through all their encounters could he recall a single instance to contradict those words.
Chapter 3: Introducing Hope
Hope's perspective and the first email
Hope Kramer was under no illusions about how she was perceived by others. She thought they were idiots and they thought she was an asshole. All in all, Hope thought it worked out quite nicely as both groups held a mutual nonverbal agreement to leave each other alone.
It was part of why she made a living via a field where very little interaction with others was required. She’d done it deliberately. When she was forced into contact with the rest of humanity, Hope tended to swear. A lot. (To her credit, she did try to do it under her breath so none could hear. Though sometimes she was more successful than others.) It wasn’t good for her health (either mental or physical).
Due to a glowing review from a former employer which spelled out what excellent service Hope could perform, as long as she was left alone, (The recommendation had actually used much more flowery language expounding on how all she’d been given was an overall goal and Hope had done the rest with very little supervision required. It amounted to the same thing.) she’d been able to work up to her current employment for The Daily Planet at double her previous salary.
She just hadn’t realized that she would be the I.T. specialist for the whole damn building!
Which brought her to her first day at her new job, where right after Human Resources had finished filing paperwork, Hope had been directed to the editor-in-chief. It had gone something like this:
“You’re the new tech?”
“Yes sir. I’m Hope Kramer.”
“My name is Perry White. All your paperwork has been filled out?”
“Yes sir. I just finished.”
“Good. Your first assignment is to fix Lois Lane’s printer.”
It started out innocently enough. She was yelling (quietly) at cords that went to nowhere and generally having an actually nice conversation with one of her new coworkers. Which in and of itself was an amazing occasion to call home about! He actually seemed to sincerely want to help and gave non-moronic comments (at least so far) when she peeked her head out from under Ms. Lane’s desk to introduce herself.
He sat in the rolling chair that belonged to the cubicle next to Ms. Lane’s. His hair was black in a professional-casual style that covered the tops of his ears. He wore thick black-rimmed glasses, in a rounded-square that were large enough to touch his cheeks and eyebrows. They shaded his eyes so well that it took her several heartbeats to realize his eyes were blue. But it wasn’t his hair or glasses or eyes that made her pause.
It was his smile. That was a smile to weaken a girl’s knees! Dimples on both sides, a small cleft chin, but it was real. It reached his eyes, crinkling the skin around them.
Hoping to hide exactly how flustered that smile made her, she pushed back under the desk before she remembered that he’d asked her name. She tried desperately to refocus upon the task at hand, devoting most of her brainpower to finding where cords went and led. (While a piece of her mind was expounding on how might his lips taste.) The rest of her decided to answer her coworker as she would her brother. As if he had a brain and could be useful if directly properly. (If she saw him as her brother, that would mean he wasn’t kissable. Shouldn’t kiss your coworkers!)
However, waaay too soon for her thought processes, she’d theoretically fixed the cords and needed to get back out from under the desk. Facing the man that she absolutely wasn’t going to kiss. She wasn’t. Nope. Nada.
“Clark Kent,” he introduced with that smile.
She grabbed his hand automatically to shake as per etiquette, and felt an electric spark. “Hope Kramer.” She was quite proud of herself that her voice didn’t waver or change. She also dropped his hand like a hot wire as soon as was deemed acceptable. That smile could be a secret weapon!
“Out of curiosity, do you always swear so much?” he asked, amused.
Her eyes flicked to him in abject surprise. It was her first day. She’d made sure that her comments wouldn’t be heard. Otherwise her first day would also coincide with her last. Or…she thought she had. “You heard that? Sorry.” No blushing. That was cliché. “I try to make sure it’s a low enough volume so no one hears me. It’s a way to vent frustration. Otherwise, I tend to start doing things better left to the imagination.” Had her grammar diminished? Seriously? All she needed was a nice smile and her elocution went out the window? That was just sad.
“Erasing someone’s identity because they put a credit card in their disk drive. Uploading a virus to forever make a computer slower than an eight-and-a-half inch floppy. Cramming peanut butter into their air vent because they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Printing 72-point font signs labelling everything ‘do not attempt to fix yourself’ in capital letters. You know, the classics.”
He couldn’t help himself; he laughed.
Good God in Heaven! That laugh should be illegal!!! It was genuine. That was what she liked so much about it. She dealt with idiots and fakes so much that his lack of either was refreshing. She smiled back at him, trying not to blush or stammer or any other horrible clichés. “Mrs. Lane should be able to print now. Please don’t attempt to fix it yourselves if it still doesn’t work.”
He chuckled lightly, not offended at her reminder. Instead, he made a joke. “How about turning it off and back on again?”
“Only if you want to push your luck, Mr. Kent.” She had to leave quickly or she would make a fool out of herself, she knew it!
“Clark,” he corrected. All she did was nod and turn right-way around. When she finally made it around a corner, she had to stop at a near wall and get her breath. That grin and accompanying laughter still echoing behind her eyes.
Hope made a resolve to stay away from one Clark Kent as much as possible. Otherwise, she might get a citation submitted to Human Resources for sexual harassment…
One Month Later
Hope frowned at the picture of Superman in the Daily Planet headline. It was a three-quarter full-body shot. The angle wide enough to get his cape flowing in the breeze, his levitation obvious in the angle of his feet.
Something about it bothered her…but she couldn’t put her finger on why.
Before she could do much more than mentally note the occurrence and start to attempt to pinpoint the source, her phone rang. “I.T.” she answered.
“Kramer!” the voice of Perry White came over the line, “Lane’s printer is out again!”
Hope groaned low in her throat. “Yes sir, I’ll be right up.” Would that woman ever listen to her on what NOT to do?
The Next Month
Hope stared at the photograph. It was a byline, barely more than a blurb really. Superman was smiling at the camera. It wasn’t a genuine smile. She didn’t blame him. Apparently, the photographer had pulled a paparazzi while the guy was working with homeless kids.
Six Weeks After That
This one was a three-quarter head-shot. Superman was looking over the last of the cleaned up remains of his fight with General Zod. It was finally all done, which was what the article had centered on (that and how Superman had helped to clean up the mess he’d help create).
The photographer had managed to wait and got a glimpse of a real smile on the alien’s face. She could see the crinkles at the corner of his eye as he surveyed the finished rebuilds.
She frowned at the photograph. Something about it…
Looking back at the other photographs of Superman she’d noted as being odd, she noticed they were all by the same guy. Jimmy Olsen. Maybe she should talk to him…
Then she looked closer, realized what she was seeing, and began to curse. “Bloody, stupid, fucking hell! You moron!” Taking quick action, Hope began to type a strongly worded email to a distinct individual.
Heading: NSFW – Did You Think No One Would Notice?!
Seriously, did you think no one would notice?! That has got to be the most IDIOTIC disguise I’ve ever seen!!! How could you think that parting your hair differently and wearing glasses would be enough to throw people off?!
Since Superman is obviously the more showy of your two identities, Clark Kent is easier to manipulate with the least amount of suspicion. Thus, consider the following to better your disguise:
Wear baggier clothes. Clothes that do NOT highlight your obvious muscles, which are clearly defined in the Superman costume. I’d suggest at least two sizes too large for your frame. But fitted to your arm length and ankles so as not to get too much notice. Again, goal is to fade into the background and differentiate your frame from Superman’s.
Also, get pads for your shirts to offset how wide your shoulders really are. You can show off Clark as wider shoulders
You also want to pick colors that are dingy, dirty, and just plain drab. Browns, tans, grays. Black goes well with your hair, so stay away from that. The intent being to NOT draw attention. Stay away from strong colors, even if they do compliment your eyes. That’s not the point. Compliment your eyes when you’re on a date, not when at work around NOSY REPORTERS, you IDIOT!
Get better disguise glasses. The ones you’ve got are nice for your bone structure. They highlight your eyes well. You need bulky frames that shade your eyes, as they are a very distinguishing feature. Save the glasses you’ve currently got for date night, not around NOSY REPORTERS, you IDIOT!
One thought I had was for a temp tattoo on an inside wrist or ‘hidden’ at the neckline that Clark could wear. Easily removed for fast transition, if need be, but since no one would think of it being so fast removed, it’d help. Being the Fastest Man Alive, I think that would be easy for you, but every little bit helps. That, and as long as the light doesn’t hit it just right, most people take temp tattoos as real ones, if seen from a distance. Superman, obviously, can’t wear one, but Kent could.
Most people only see what they expect to see. However, you are surrounded by NOSY REPORTERS, you IDIOT!!!!! Including that you WORK WITH ONE DAILY!!! The nosiest, actually. It won’t be long that she figures it out, if she hasn’t already. She’s good at her job.
If you want to remain as anonymous as possible, then please consider my suggestions.
Sincerely Concerned for Your Ability to Reason,
Hoping You Aren’t an Idiot and It’s Only Temporary Insanity
Clark blinked at the email sitting innocently in his work inbox. He read the subject line twice, wondering, before giving up and turning to his desk partner, “Lois, what does N.S.F.W. mean?”
She looked over at him, needing a couple seconds to switch mental gears. Then she grinned broadly. “Not Safe For Work. You got a girlfriend?” Her voice was friendly with a touch of suggestive. It still made the innocent farm boy flush. She eagerly hoped from her chair and rounded to peer over his shoulder at his computer screen. “Huh. ‘Did you think no one would notice’? Odd for a subject line. Do you recognize the sender?” Her reporter senses were tingling, eyes narrowing in focus.
“No, but I don’t think ‘Rescinded at You Moron dot e.d.u.’ is a real email address.”
“You never know,” she shrugged. “It could be a new anonymous source, trying to get your attention.” Anonymous sources were common to two types of people: police and reporters. Both required them to do their job effectively. “Click it. Let’s see what it says.”
Obediently, Clark tried. Instead of the expected email, a popup box appeared. Highlighted in large bold red letters were the words
TARGET EMAIL CURRENTLY UNAVAILABLE
ONLY AVAILABLE AT SECURED I.P. ADDRESS
“Huh,” Lois tilted her head as she contemplated the popup. “Well, that’s a new one.” She leaned so that she could peer into his eyes without shifting her position, meaning her eyes were less than six inches from his own. “If this is a new A.S., he’s tech-savvy.”
Clark was understandably flustered at his partner’s nearness. “Yeah!” he practically squeaked, scooting his chair backward hastily. Lois was quite beautiful, and he was a male with a healthy sex drive. (The fact he wasn’t human was beside the point, as he had grown up around humans and adopted the human standard of beauty as his own. That, and he had no idea what the Kryptonian standard of beauty or desirability could be.)
She flashed a smirk at his discomfort, as if it were good fun, then went back to her desk. “You can try on your home computer. If that doesn’t work, I’d call that…woman,” she hissed the word as if it were a curse, “down in I.T.”
“Good idea, Lois. I’ll do that,” he quickly assured her. An angry Lois wasn’t pleasant to be around and the workday had just started.
Lois’ grin at his obvious unease at her nearness made him think of ‘that woman’s comment. “She’s a terrible friend. Everything is always about her.” That smirk suggested she enjoyed embarrassing him… Was it malicious?
While he understood that Lois knew the appropriate social rules and boundaries, she approached their use as a sniper would a bullet: a tool to eliminate a target. Though she usually pretended to care better during work hours, or with friends, her general personality relaxed around Clark, thus showing how little social constructs bothered her.
Clark sighed, pushing his musings to the side. He had work to do right now.
Later that day, Clark pulled up his email on his personal home computer and clicked on the offending email. He began to read, “Dear Idiot…” He blinked, startled. He kept reading. “Seriously, did you think no one would notice.” He muttered the sentences without retaining the emphasis of the exclamation marks. He still understood. “That has got to be the most idiotic disguise I’ve ever seen. How could you think that parting your hair differently and wearing glasses would be enough to throw people off?”
He scrolled down and surged forward in his seat as his mind fully registered the picture that was attached below the paragraph. It was two images, one of Superman and the other Clark Kent. Both were taken at the same 3-quarter angle, and several areas had been circled and connected to each picture. Showing the perfect correlation. “Good God,” he breathed. He thought his mother would forgive his blasphemy in this instance.
He scrolled down again, dread in the pit of his stomach. However, instead of threats of money or blackmail or anything else that his mind conjured in the two seconds it took to turn the wheel, there were suggestions on how to make his disguise better. Well, his Clark Kent disguise better. Even going so far as to explain the logic behind each suggestion.
He blinked again as the salutation tied in with the signature section.
As long as he ignored the foul language, expletives, and various grammatical email yelling, it was actually very helpful. Thoughtful. Kind, even. It seemed rather genuine, caring whether he continued his work as Superman.
So, after a brief internal debate, he began to compose a reply.
Thank you for sending me your thoughtful suggestions. While a tattoo would be impractical at this stage, as Clark must change into Superman at inhuman speeds, I greatly appreciate your other ideas. Do you have any more?
I would also like to ask about any suggestions you may have regarding my partner. So far, she seems rather oblivious to what you say is obvious. Are you sure that the connection you have made is as clear as you think? What are the chances of others making this same correlation? I recognize the pictures you used for your demonstration. Each was printed in different editions, months apart. Did you save each edition of The Daily Planet for reference? Or perhaps you noticed the similarities by happenstance?
I am not saying you do not have a point, but the method by which you acquired this information could be significant.
Also, how secure is this reply method? Perhaps we should meet in person to discuss this incredibly sensitive information.
Hope blinked at the email waiting for her the morning after she sent the rather scathing diatribe on Superman/Clark’s choices of disguise. She did have a brief pause of panic at his salutation, but then remembered how she had signed her own. He didn’t know who she was, he was just using a one-word condensed form.
“Well, he got the signature right,” she muttered as she began again.
(I am not calling you ‘dear’ anything.)
You’re a moron. You actually REPLIED without knowing if it was a secure email??? Are you out of your mind? Seriously, I’d like to know if the supposed “american hero” is bat-shit insane. I think that’s a significant detail. (Of course, one could make the argument that anyone who goes into burning buildings without regard to his own life is, in fact, crazy.)
Yes, this email is secure. If anyone cracked this code, then a lovely little virus would be left in their system, which would increase the threshold for fan temperature. Resulting in a ‘spontaneous’ meltdown from overheating. Then just look for whatever agency bought a new supercomputer (for it would TAKE a supercomputer to crack my firewall. No, I’m not being arrogant.)
As for the pictures. Do you really want to take the chance that I only noticed via coincidence? Really? How dumb are you? You went to all the trouble to hide Clark Kent, so obviously that means you care about having a social life to some degree. Who would want to be Superman all the time?
Personally, if you truly want my REAL advice, I’d tell you to scrap Kent entirely and start from scratch with a new identity. One with a wig, moles, birthmarks, and all sorts of other things that would make it highly unlikely to connect the two. And get a different job. Reporters are NOSEY, by profession and passion.
However, I highly doubt you’ll be willing to go that far with hiding your human identity. So, my previous emailed comments stand. As for the tattoo being impractical…oh well. At least you were smart enough to consider it, then discard it for logical reasons. Congrats you get ONE brainy point. To earn more, please use that thing between your ears more often.
Oh, and I don’t appreciate you denigrating my own intelligence. It’s YOUR idiocy on trial here, not mine!
Sincerely Are You Going To Continue Being A Moron,
How did I denigrate your intelligence???
You suggested that I would meet you in person, you moron. You are LITERALLY faster than a speeding bullet and you’re called the Man of Steel (how many pairs of pants did you go through during puberty? ;-P ). Why would I get within touching distance of you? In fact, why would I tell you what STATE I live in?
Ahhh, I understand your reasoning now. Sorry. It wasn’t my intention. I truly was worried about the safety of the emails. In person, I could be better assured of our correspondence. My hearing is extremely sensitive. I am able to hear any heartbeat within a mile, well beyond the range of any parabolic microphone.
And you live in Metropolis. Why else would you be so interested in me? Or have access to Daily Planet photos so readily. Metropolis is the city in which I do the most “american hero” work. Q.E.D.
My mother would like you to know that I went through 6 pairs of pants during puberty. She is very practical and instead of buying new jeans every week, she got extremely good at repairing crotch seams at night while I was sleeping. (She claims that she bought 56 sewing machine needles, but that it was still cheaper than buying new jeans.) She also appreciates your ability to make me blush and would like me to convey to you how much she welcomes any suggestions you have. Apparently, you’re good for me…though she was a bit vague on expanding the reasons she thinks so. You are to meet her in person as soon as you are comfortable with the idea.
I’d like to thank you as well. I haven’t seen my mother laugh so hard in years.
Hope blinked at the email. “He…told his mother about me?” And she not only approved of her, but wanted to meet her? She blinked again. “What… What does this mean?” If he was any normal boy/man, she’d think it was a precursor to dating. Or more like the middle-cursor to dating. But…he wasn’t human. And wasn’t he the only non-human on Earth? Was he raised on Earth by human parents? Does that mean he wanted to DATE her?
Clark was getting nervous. It had been almost one week since he'd heard from Hope, when they usually replied the very next day. Did someone find her? (His mother was certain that they were female. She said the syntax was purely feminine in its insults, and that only a girl could be so complementary while yelling.) Was she injured? Did she get into an accident? Was she on vacation? Was she nervous?
Are you alright? It’s been three weeks.
Please, contact me. Just let me know that you’re okay. My mind has been rolling with all sorts of possibilities, including car accidents, bank robbery, vacation, and kidnapping.
No beta, all mistakes are mine.
Please let me know what you think, but don’t be too harsh. I know its not perfect.
Comments are love!
Chapter 5: Many Forms of Meetings
Oh the many forms of meetings that can happen in a short period of time...
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
It started at 4:37pm with Mr. White, her boss, yelling at her through the phone. “Kramer! I’ve got to give a presentation to the Board of Directors tomorrow at 8am and the damned projector in the conference room isn’t working. Fix it or it’s your job!” Click.
“Yes, sir,” Hope sighed into the dial tone. She had a love-hate relationship with Perry White. He was a good boss in that he was fair, all paperwork was submitted correctly and on time, and he stayed out of her way for the most part. However, his manners really needed help. Ironically for the chief editor of a major newspaper, his people skills sucked. Unless he liked you, Hope assumed. After all, he had to have some people skills to stay married for so many years. That, or his wife had the patience of a saint. Or both.
With these thoughts running through her head, Hope headed for the main conference room on the top floor, which had the nicest furniture and fanciest equipment. Since White hadn’t specified which conference room, she had to assume. It was a logical assumption, but still an assumption. “You know what they say about assuming…” Hope muttered under her breath.
Most projector problems were relatively easy to solve. Either the operator didn’t know what they were doing, or it was a driver issue. After 23 minutes, Hope concluded that it was neither and had begun to curse. Colorfully.
Henry Gates, the night security officer of The Daily Planet for the last decade, currently on front-desk duty, asked politely. “You’re here much later than usual, Miss Kramer.”
Hope nodded wearily. “Mr. White had a projector problem. Took me ages to find the short in the wire, then figured out it was one of those one-in-a-million times the short traveled from the wire to the equipment. Had to replace both. Then spent almost two hours tracking down the right software. Another hour to get everything uploaded and updated. Then my paranoia reared its head. Mr. White didn’t specify which conference room had a projector problem, so I went around and double-checked the others, which took me another hour.” Her voice showcased her exhaustion. “Do you know how many conference rooms are in this frickin’ building?”
Henry winced in sympathy. “Would you like me to call you a cab? You look dead on your feet.”
She shook her head, “No. I only live a few blocks away. And if I take a cab, I’ll fall asleep.”
“Alright, Miss Kramer, but be careful. It’s almost 10pm. Lots of nasty people come out at night.”
She snorted, “In this town? Who’d dare with Superman flying around.”
“Even Superman has to sleep,” Henry said wisely.
His eyes were full of concern. “You sure I can’t call you a cab?”
“Nah, I gotta pick up something for dinner anyway.”
“Okay, Miss Kramer,” Henry said reluctantly, “but keep your eyes peeled.”
Hope nodded. “Thanks, Mr. Gates. Stay safe yourself.”
“Will do, Miss Kramer.”
She waved her final goodbye and was out the door, finally free. “Need to talk to H.R. about overtime. That was murder.” She groaned, stretching her shoulders and back as she walked down the street. Part of her acknowledged that it was well past when most were holed up. Even for as large a city as Metropolis, things were starting to settle down for the night. It wasn’t the greatest time to be walking alone. However, Metropolis was also the home city of Superman himself, who did regular patrols and reportedly kept his ear out for any cries for help. She also only lived 5 blocks away from her apartment complex; she regularly walked to and from work. It was cheaper and faster than trying to find parking and fighting traffic.
And Hope had a concealed carry license.
There was a reason her purse was just a bit heavier than one might expect. She had sewn a special pocket into the lining where her small .22 could hide. To be extra safe, she kept the bullets in her jacket pocket.
As her mother had explained when Hope was 13, “It’s the same principle as carrying a condom, sweetie. It’s better to have one and not need it, than need one and not have it.” Her father had taught her physical defense. Her mother had taught her weapons, particularly guns. Both had instilled in her how to stay safe.
Which she was currently partially ignoring by being out after dark but Hope reasoned that even as tired as she was, she kept her eyes open watching the shadows and stayed to the well-lit areas. No need to invite trouble. Not to mention that she was hungry and knew how little was in her cupboards.
So, Hope stepped inside the small 24-hour convenience store/gas-station, just wanting to grab a sandwich. Something small that she could eat the rest of the way home, then happily collapse into bed.
“Open the register!” a deep voice jerked Hope out of her musings between tuna and beef.
Hope froze for a split second before ducking low, closing her eyes as she pictured the layout in her mind, locating both herself and the register. Even as she was imagining the approximate location of the robber (near the register, close to the automatic doors) in relation to herself (to the left, behind three aisles), Hope put her hand into her jacket and pulled out three bullets.
“I said, open the register!” He sounded young, full of bluster.
Hope moved carefully, making as little sound as possible, and used her other hand to grab her small .22 revolver. (It had been a present from her mother. The same gun she had used when she was younger. Small, compact, lightweight.) She winced as the bullets made a soft ‘clink’ noise as she slipped the bullets into the chamber, then closed it with a ‘snick’. Double checking that the safety was off, Hope took a deep centering breath, and slowly arranging herself to peer over the aisle.
“Stop cryin’, bitch! Or I’ll give you somethin’ to cry about. Just give me the money!” He was young. All three of them were. (Did she have enough bullets? Better not miss.) Late teens, early twenties. Young enough to still believe they were immortal and consequences didn’t apply to them. All were dressed similarly: dark sweaters with the hood pulled down and some sort of cover across their nose, mouth, and cheekbones, so that identification would be nigh impossible. (Holding gun wrong. Sideways. Likely to miss even at current point-blank range.) Still, Hope categorized each approximate height, race, anything she could notice. (Shoulders weird on the one by the door. Female?)
Hope braced herself as steady as she could, aiming carefully, then loudly cleared her throat, “I’d leave her alone if I were you.”
All three jerked their heads in her direction, obviously startled. (Inexperienced. Random selection? Desperate?) “You stay outta dis, bitch!”
(Definitely inexperienced. Yet to notice her gun.) “If you leave now, then you will not be pursued. Otherwise,” Hope pulled back the cock, making the stereotypical Hollywood noise, which wasn’t necessary to arm it, but she was hoping these three were kids. Young, dumb, and full of hormones; easily scared off, “I WILL return fire.”
The spokesman’s voice shook slightly in the face of a ready defense. “Dat ting ain’t real!”
“I assure you; it is very real.” She stared down at the one with the gun. “You haven’t done anything yet. You haven’t harmed anyone. You can still leave.”
“You so stupid, lady! We ain’t leavin’ wit’out da money!”
Hope stopped trying to negotiate with those words. Instead, she sighted down the barrel. (Both eyes open. Don’t blink. Even breaths. Aim for largest target. Squeeze half-pressure. Should b—
Hope gave a startled shout as arms suddenly wrapped around her from behind, one around her chest and upper arms, the other coming around her neck. He—for someone so large could only be a he—didn’t bother with words as he jerked his body up then down sharply, crashing her arms down hard on the sharp edge of the aisle shelf she’d been using as a brace. She cried out in pain. He did it again. Again. Again. She couldn’t retain her grip and the gun dropped behind food stuffs, out of sight.
Her mind was in turmoil, but she managed to hang on to a single thought: defend. (He’s behind me. Grabbing from behind. Instep!) Her foot shot up then straight back, scrapping down her attacker’s leg from knee to foot with all her strength. He gave a pained grunt, his arm loosening. (Solar plexus.) Her elbow surged forward, then back straight into his stomach. He let her go. (Nose.) She spun and punched, imaging her fist going through his head. He stumbled backward as blood began to pour down his chin. (Groin!) Her foot came up in a perfect ballerina-esque slant, pointing her toes for maximum surface area to connect with his balls. He finally went down, curling around his midsection.
Hope sidestepped and spun, trying to keep all the robbers in her line of sight. (Where’s the gun? Where’s the gun? Where’s my damned gun?!) Despite her eyes flicking almost desperately around the room, she couldn’t see the tell-tale black grip. And the other three (four total -- shit!) were already heading straight for her. “You fuckin’ bitch!” (can’t take four!) Then she yelled at the top of her lungs, “Superman! A little help would be nice!”
“Fuckin’ bitch! Don’t call that fucker!” The leader aimed his gun at her, his eyes were ice cold. (badly underestimated them - i’m so fucked) “You gonna pay for that.” Yes, his gun was aimed sideways at her (he watches too many movies) and over 60% of people missed at point-blank range, worse if they weren’t aiming at all. However, she could see from his eyes that he wouldn’t stop firing until she was dead. Those eyes wanted her dead and bleeding corpse at his feet. “I’ll fuckin’ kill ya’, bitch. You dead.” His finger tightened.
Hope closed her eyes. She didn’t want to see those stone-cold eyes as her last image. She brought up the best things she could think of: her mother’s hugs, her father’s laugh, and Clark Kent’s knee-weakening smile. “Idiot…”
The gun went off. Again. Again. A—
The utter lack of the expected fourth bullet made her open her eyes. There, right in front of her eyes, was a very distinctive pure-red cape. Still moving slightly. (Superman…?) Hope blinked, barely registering the thought when the superhero moved super-fast to each of the three still standing, removing their weapons while at the same time tying them up. By the time Hope had the urge to blink again from sheer disbelief, all four were tied together in the middle of the floor. She’d known Superman was fast, but seeing it was another thing entirely.
She blinked several times in rapid succession, but the scene didn’t change. Then it did: she was now staring at that distinctive pure-red diamond-outlined ‘S’ with it’s pure-yellow background. Her eyes went up to connect with his bright blue orbs. “You came,” she said stupidly.
His mouth quirked minutely, “You called.”
Her mouth opened, closed, opened, “Thank you.”
His eyebrows furrowed in deep concern. “I was almost too late,” he said softly. She followed his gaze to the floor where two extremely flat bullets lay, obviously having encountered the Man of Steel’s chest.
Hope swallowed around the sudden lump in her throat.
He’d saved her life.
Saved her life.
“Thank you,” she said again. “Guess you’re not such an idiot after all.” A split second later, her hand clapped over her mouth as she squeaked. (Oh shit…)
His brows lowered in momentary surprise and/or confusion, before they relaxed. His eyes grew more intense, darkening to sapphire. “Hope…” he murmured for her ears only. Barely a whisper.
She opened her mouth behind her hand, but didn’t say anything. She couldn’t. She’d been keeping her identity from him for a reason!
He gave a deep throaty chuckle, “Cat got your tongue? Run out of expletives?”
His smile widened.
“Superman? Sir? I’ve called the police. They said they’ll be here in five minutes.” Saved by the clerk.
Hope and Superman both turned to look to the female attendant who up until now had been silent. “Thank you. We’ll all need to give statements so that these men can be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” Hope blinked at the completely different tone and facial expression he presented to the clerk. Determined, commanding, reassuring, powerful, calm.
For a few brief moments, she’d seen someone else. The real Clark Kent? Or was Clark another mask? If so, she’d have to apologize. Having three faces was smart. Though how badly Kent had been hidden was moronic. Maybe she wouldn’t have to apologize after all. Unless it was done on purpose? But why…?
It took almost an hour for the police to finish taking her statement because they made her go over it several times. They grilled her about her gun, and the officer got a pinched expression when she pulled out her concealed carry license. Finally let her keep her weapon, since she hadn’t actually gotten a chance to fire it, and all registered firearms’ ballistics were already on file. When she was eventually let go, after telling her that she might be contacted later for follow-up questions, Hope wearily began to walk.
Halfway down the block, she stopped, “I know you’re there.”
He floated into view. That grin was back. The smile that threatened to melt her knees. “You are observant. Let me escort you home.”
She nodded, knowing that she couldn’t stop him, and the cat was already out of the bag. He knew who she was now. Knew where she worked. It wouldn’t take much to break into H.R. and get her contact information and address. So instead of arguing, she said, “Thanks again.”
His brows knitted together, his eyes darkened and not in a knee-weakening way. “Do you always walk home this late?”
Hope shook her head, “Extenuating circumstances. Extra long day coupled with no din—” she groaned.
“What is it?”
“I didn’t get my dinner,” she pouted. Her stomach grumbled its own protest right on cue.
Superman’s eyes lightened with realization, but the concern didn’t disappear. “Why didn’t you take a taxi from the office?”
“It’s only five blocks and I needed food. My cupboards are bare.” She saw his expression and defended, “I haven’t gotten the chance to go to the store this week.” His eyebrow raised. “Okay, two weeks. But I hate shopping!” His mouth quirked in humor.
They walked companionably in silence for half a block. “Why didn’t you email me back?” he asked next.
Hope sighed, knowing that question had been coming. “You told your mother about me.” His eyebrow raised again. “Telling your mother about another individual usually has certain connotations. Expectations.”
Superman gave a slow nod of understanding, though his eyes were drawn together as if he were in deep contemplation. Slowly he offered, “And if I said my only expectation is to get to know you better?”
She swallowed hard, not knowing what to do or say. So she stayed silent for another half-block. “You know I won’t tell anyone.”
“It’s not safe for people to know about me either.”
“I won’t be in the limelight that Lois likes so much.”
“You won’t use me like Lois, either,” he replied gently.
She took a deep breath, “This is my building.”
He looked up at the apartment complex. “Do you have a balcony?”
“Yes, but I don’t keep it unlocked. Let’s just take the elevator.”
“No. If you don’t want others to know that we…interact…then you need to go up by yourself. Call my name when you get settled.”
She nodded and turned to do exactly that. Five minutes later, she was locking her front door even as she toed off her shoes and dropped her purse on the side table. A quick glance in her fridge made her grimace. She really needed to go to the store tomorrow. She sighed and went to her balcony sliding door, unlocked it, stuck her head out and called, “Idiot?”
A chuckle made her look up as he descended. “Are you always going to call me that?”
“Maybe.” That made him smile and she could see it was a genuine smile. The one that made her knees weak. “I brought you a present.”
Hope blinked, then gave a chuckle as he produced a sandwich from under his cape. “Thank you, Moron. That was very thoughtful.” She turned and got a knife. Cutting the bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich, she set each half on a plate. She presented a plate to him with her own flourish.
“Oh, no. I got that for you.” She narrowed her eyes at him and didn’t lower the plate. His mouth twitched, nodded, “Yes, ma’am,” as if she had given him an order. Which, in a way, she had.
When they had both finished, she gathered the dishware and set them in the sink.
“Oh, I can get that,” he said.
She looked at him with her own raised eyebrow. “It’s after midnight. The damned dishes can wait until later.”
He grinned, “You’re feeling better.” At her confused expression, he clarified, “You swore.”
She snorted, but acknowledged the truth. “Am… Am I really the only one who’s figured it out?”
“Lois knows, and my mother, but that’s it.”
Hope grimaced. “Careful of Mrs. Lane. I don’t trust her not to blackmail you or something if you stop doing what she wants. She’s a fabulous reporter and will do anything for her story.”
He merely looked at her for a couple long moments, “Thank you.”
She blinked, “For what?”
“You look out for me. The emails, the advice. You care what happens to me.”
She blinked again, “Well…yeah.” It was her turn to feel like an idiot. “Anyone would.” The only thing stopping her in the beginning, when Superman first appeared, was that the superhero didn’t have an address where she could send things.
His smile became sad alongside admiration, “No, not anyone.”
She felt like blushing. Was she blushing? She was blushing. Damnit!
His head jerked toward the left and he stared through her wall. His entire demeanor had changed again. He’d become Superman. He looked back at her, “I have to go.”
“I have to sleep,” it was all she could think to say.
He nodded and a small bit of that man who had eaten a BLT slid into his eyes as he bent forward. “See you tomorrow, Hope.” Then he gave her cheek a chaste kiss and disappeared at super-speed.
It took her several seconds for her brain to register what he’d done. When it did, she growled and ran to the already open balcony door. She yelled out at the top of her lungs, “You’re going to pay for that, you idiot!”
Was it her imagination, or did she hear laughter as she closed and locked the sliding door?
I’m combining Christopher Reeves’ Superman movies with the newest DC cinema, so it may be a bit confusing on a timeline. I’m doing my best. No beta, all mistakes are mine.
Please let me know what you think, but be kind. I know it’s not perfect.