Strategic Retreat

By B.B. Medos []

Summary: As Lois crouches behind some crates in a warehouse, preparing to zero in on a hot story, she sees her partner — who's supposed to be in Smallville — sneak in and undergo an unexpected transformation. A revelation story set around the time of the second-season episode "The Source."

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I actually started this in July 1994, got as far as Lois packing her bags, then filed it away and forgot about it. Recently while cleaning out some old files I ran across it and became intrigued with the premise I'd set up, the slightly different characterization of Clark Kent and the direction Lois Lane's dilemma is taking. I think this may have originally been an early incarnation of the beginning of my SANCTUARY nfanfic when I was still playing around with that story being the aftermath of a revelation of Clark's secret. I'm placing this no later than the second season episode, THE SOURCE. To be honest, I have no idea where this one is going now but I'm curious enough about it to try to find out and you're welcome to come along for the ride. <vbg>


Lois Lane moved in behind the crates and slowly edged sideways until she could see between two enormous piles stacked just above her head. The crates were angled in such a way she had a clear view down the length of the aisle leading to the stairs and part of the windows to the office level but not the stairs themselves that lead to the upper level where the warehouse offices were located.

Before she could shift her position to get a better view, she heard the side door she had just used to enter the building being slowly opened. Prudently, she remained in place to see who was entering. From her location, she could not actually see the door, but could tell someone was taking their time coming into the warehouse. A moment later, she heard footsteps and Clark Kent moved into her line of sight.

Lois scowled at the unexpected sight of her partner. She hadn't even known he was still in Metropolis that morning. He was supposed to be on his way home to Smallville for a week's vacation. Just as she was about to hiss at him to let him know she was there, he began to loosen his tie as he unbuttoned his shirt and she froze.

Her mind and her body simply ceased functioning.

Clark was turned just enough towards her position as he opened his shirt that she had a clear view of his chest. Stunned, she watched as he continued moving steadily toward the stairs, all the while glancing around and checking out his surroundings. Then everything blurred as he began to move faster and faster until her eyes could not separate the individual movements. Reaching the end of the corridor of crates, he turned to face the wall and slowly rose to the height of the windows on the office level.

Her world seemed to tilt slightly and Lois realized abruptly she'd been holding her breath. Long years of practice in the art of staying calm in the face of danger came swiftly to her aid as she closed her eyes and drew in a slow, shaky breath, as quietly and evenly as she could manage. Instinct told her she was in danger even though she could not quite identify its source. Ordinarily, she'd have felt certain she was completely hidden and had the necessary time to collect her wits, but this was not an ordinary circumstance, by any means.

When Lois managed to force herself to start breathing, she slowly opened her eyes and looked towards the stairs once more. She immediately realized her mistake because she found herself gazing directly into two extremely intense brown eyes. Again she froze and waited to see what he'd do. The part of her mind somehow managing to work properly noted he was continuing to float at the second story level and had simply twisted his head in her direction.

For a lifetime, they stared at each other while the question of what would happen next literally vibrated the air between them.

A noise inside the office sent his head swinging back towards the windows in front of his position. Something he saw inside must have made the decision for him, because without even glancing back, he floated swiftly toward the office entrance.

Lois remained frozen in place until he was out of her line of sight then bolted back to the side door as rapidly as her shaking legs could carry her. She knew she had very little time before he would be finished with the unlucky individuals inside the office. Everything within her screamed at her to run and hide immediately, but where?

How did one hide from HIM?

Particularly if he wanted to find you and she was relatively certain she was going to be at the top of his missing persons list as soon as he finished in that office.

Once outside the building, Lois kept moving. Her personal first priority was to get away from the industrial district. Then she needed to find a place, any place, where she could stop long enough to think and digest what she'd just seen.

Hopefully, in private. With a certainty that came from long years of trusting her own instincts, she knew finding that privacy was going to be her biggest problem.

As she rounded the corner of the block, luck was on her side. A Metro Transit bus was stopping at the entrance gate to one of the factories. She was aboard and had paid the fare almost before she was aware of her own intentions.

As she sat down, one part of her mind observed the bus was headed downtown. That would do. Or, at least, it would take her in the general direction of her apartment. The bus was relatively crowded, which meant he probably wouldn't approach her on it even if he found her.

She hoped.

For a few minutes, either way, she could work on getting her breathing and heart rate back to normal. The bus stopped briefly several times as it made its way closer and closer to the center of Metropolis. As people continued to get on and off with nothing unusual happening, Lois gradually relaxed even more and began to massage her temples to help clear her head.


All day Friday, Clark had been troubled by the notion he and Lois had missed an important clue in the Ricky Patterson case. Everyone was convinced the little boy had run away, but Lois kept insisting it didn't make sense for Ricky to run. Earlier, maybe, but not now. Clark knew better than to doubt her instincts, but the problem was even she couldn't make sense of the evidence they'd collected. Early Saturday, as he was packing for his vacation, Clark suddenly realized the link they'd missed. It was the actual act of packing which made everything fall into place. He also realized Ricky had very little time left if his hunch was right.

His vacation could wait a few hours.

As Clark Kent, he began to double check a few details of their investigation to determine exactly where Ricky might be found. By the time he was sure he was on the right track, he had retraced their steps to the warehouse in the industrial area of Metropolis.

When he entered the building the back way, he was so concerned for Ricky's safety he was straining to hear and see only what was happening on the second level of the warehouse. It wasn't until after Superman began to rise to the office windows he became aware of another presence close by.

One that wasn't in the office in front of him.

The strained breathing and increased heartbeat were all he needed to locate the individual. A second later he recognized Lois and forgot everything as they stared at each other. It was only the muffled sobs from the office behind him that finally broke his concentration on her. Once he knew where to look, one quick scan through the office told him Ricky was being held, bound and gagged, in a large cabinet.

As he entered the office, he had to make a conscious effort to put Lois out of his mind. He would deal with her. Later. Right now, his main concern was to rescue the frightened little boy. The three men in the office offered only token resistance and in literally seconds, after a blur of activity on his part, all three were tied up together and gagged in exactly the same manner the small boy had been held in the cabinet.

Except Ricky was no longer in the cabinet. He was sitting on top of the desk waiting and watching with huge blue eyes while his idol called the police to report finding him.

"Are you okay, Ricky?"

"Uh, I think so, Superman. I was scared before you came."

"Ricky, there's nothing wrong with being scared if there's a good reason. Do you understand?"

"I think so."

"Now, and this is important, have you seen any other people here besides these three? Think carefully."

"They're the only ones I've seen. Were you looking for someone else?"

"No, not really. I was simply making sure we had them all." He smiled down at the little boy. "Ricky, I have to leave but a very good friend of mine should be here any second. His name is Clark Kent and he's a reporter for the Daily Planet. You know, the newspaper?"

"Oh, yeah, I know that one. My dad reads it all the time."

"Anyway, he'll stay here with you until the police get here and then it won't be long until you're back with your parents. Okay?"

"Sure, Superman."

"Will you be okay until Clark gets here? I promise you they won't bother you anymore."

"I'm okay, honest."

With a quick goodbye to Ricky, Superman moved over to the office's outside windows, began to float then disappeared in a rush of air. When Clark entered the door of the office a moment later, Ricky was almost hanging out of the window.

"He's pretty impressive, isn't he, Ricky?"

"Oh, wow, I can't believe I really met Superman! Who are you?"

"My name is Clark Kent. Superman told me he was pretty sure you were being held here and I can see he was right. Ricky, are you okay? They didn't hurt you, did they?"

"I'm okay. They weren't mean to me. I mean, other than not letting me go and tying me up today."

"I'm glad. Why don't you and I sit down over here and talk until the police arrive and you can tell me all about it."

Thirty minutes later, Ricky was happily being escorted back to the police station by two uniformed officers. Clark said his good-byes and left the warehouse. Once he was out of sight of the police and the crowd that had gathered, he stopped to lean against a wall.

For the first time since going in after Ricky, he allowed himself to think about Lois. He knew she had left the warehouse and, most likely, the industrial district itself. The questions remained, where would she go and what would she do?

Clark was honest enough with himself to admit that if it'd been anyone else, he would've been in a lot bigger hurry to catch up with them, but, because it was Lois, he was torn. Oh, he knew he had to find her, and fast. At the same time, a very large part of him didn't want to face her anymore than she probably wanted to face him.

And then there was the safety concern, hers as well as his.

He trusted Lois, period. He knew her well enough to know she wouldn't say anything to anyone without thinking the consequences through first. Most of the time. However, when he remembered the panic he'd seen on her face as they stared at each other, he began to worry, trust or no trust.

Would she return to her apartment like a startled rabbit?

Possibly, but he couldn't rule out the unpredictable nature of her mind, especially if she felt cornered. On the other hand, it was the best and most logical place to start his search.


By the time Lois reached her apartment, she was much calmer. The fact that a big yellow S hadn't suddenly appeared in front of her nose as she hurried down her block had helped. As soon as she was inside the door, she rushed to fasten all the locks and chains then leaned her head against the door and shook her head.

"Get a grip, Lois Lane!" she scolded out loud, almost hysterically. "Stop and think about who you're trying to lock out here. These are definitely not going to stop him if he decides to come in." Amazingly, admitting it to herself helped her calm down more.

Not completely, just more.

"Okay, first things first," Lois continued to instruct herself vocally because it made her feel better. Then she came to a complete halt in her thought processes because she had no idea what to do next. Because of the way she was shaking, she decided sitting down would probably be a good thing.

So she sat.

Leaning back in the chair, she let the events of the last hour roll over her. She refused to allow herself to feel anything about what she had learned and forced herself to simply think. Over and over, her mind replayed Clark Kent blurring into Superman right in front of her astonished eyes.

She could've easily convinced herself she'd imagined the whole thing, except for the look in his eyes afterward. She was positive she'd never seen that look in Superman's eyes. Maybe in Clark's, but never Superman. Funny, she'd always associated intensity with Superman, not Clark, yet, instinctively she'd recognized that look as belonging to Clark. The perplexing thing was she couldn't remember when she'd seen it before.

Finally, the implications became too much and she sobbed softly, "It can't be true … can it?"

Inside, though, she knew better than to question it. All the little pieces to the puzzle were already starting to fall into place in her mind and heart. Not completely, but enough to galvanize her thoughts back into action. The one thing she was certain of was she was not ready to face him.

Either one of him.

That hilarious concept caused another hysterical giggle to bubble up from deep inside and brought her up out of the chair in a frantic movement.

Lois knew she had to get away and quickly. She started reviewing the possibilities in her mind. A wave of dizziness passed over her as she thought of the Daily Planet. Intuitively, she knew the newspaper was the one place she couldn't go. In her muddled state of mind, she wondered if she could ever go back there. Too many people whose business it was to ask too many questions.

No, definitely, most definitely, not there.

So, where could she go? Even though she did not like the idea of running from problems, she knew she needed time to come to grips with this … this …

What the hell was this?

Disaster didn't seem to be the right description of things but incident was way too mild, to her way of thinking.

The more she thought about it, the more clear it became that what she really needed was to get away from Metropolis. As long as she was in Metropolis, HE would be a threat to her peace of mind and she would pose a threat to him if she had contact with anyone else in her present frame of mind. With those two thoughts uppermost in her mind, she began to pack an assortment of items without really paying much attention to what she threw into the bag.

When she finished packing, she decided she was calm enough to call Perry White at the Planet to let him know she would be gone for a few days.

A few days!?! Yeah, right. She had no idea how long she would be gone.

Once she'd managed to completely irritate her editor by insisting on a few days off with no explanations, she wandered into the bathroom, vaguely wondering if there was anything else she needed to do before she left. Returning to the bedroom, she stared blankly at the open suitcase.

Or she would have if it'd still been there.

Lois stuck a knuckle between her lips to stifle a whimper as she stared at the single, perfect long-stemmed red rose laying in place of the suitcase on the bedspread.

*No—please, no. Don't do this to me.*

Even as the silent plea left her heart, she was picking up the rose-bud. She held it to her nose, sniffed daintily, then slowly, warily turned around, fully expecting …


Puzzled and even more wary, she blinked a couple of times. Where was he?

Then she saw it, another rosebud on the floor in the doorway leading to the kitchen. Swallowing, she briefly considered committing hari-kari. Anything to avoid the next few minutes. Desperately, she looked around for something to provide—

Protection? That was a laugh.

Escape? Not likely.

Almost against her will, her eyes slid back to the rose. It simply wasn't fair. Why was he torturing her like this?

Ever so slowly, she eased over to the doorway and guiltily attempted to pick up the rose without looking down. She ended up having to grab the door frame to keep from pitching headfirst into the kitchen and rolled her eyes at her own actions.

Then she grinned a little impishly and stood up with both roses clutched securely at her breast.

It wasn't fair, but at least he appeared to have the good sense to be appropriately guilty. The entire situation was starting to have definite possibilities.

Taking a deep breath, Lois edged into the kitchen and peered cautiously around the archway into her living room. Her eyes narrowed. There still wasn't a red cape or pair of glasses anywhere in sight, which wasn't all that reassuring, considering who she was dealing with.

But where was he?

Automatically her eyes went to the living room window. It was standing open. Invitingly open. Temptingly open.

Did he honestly think she was going to fall for such an obvious ploy that easily?

Lois made a disgusted face and moved slowly towards the window, pausing only to pick up another lonely rosebud from her coffee table. When she got close enough to see out the window to the fire escape, she stopped in surprise.

Her suitcase and briefcase were leaning against the far railing of the fire escape, conveniently out of reach. This didn't surprise her in the least.

The enormous bunch of roses cascading out of their wrapper over the two bags did, however.

Biting her bottom lip nervously, Lois contemplated the trap.

And the bait.

She really wasn't ready to face him yet, but she had to give him credit. He was baiting his trap well and, at least, he was giving her a choice. If she wanted to, she could simply close the window and he'd simply go away.

Oh, yeah.

Then, again, maybe if she waited long enough, he'd hear a call for help and go away on his own.

Uh-huh, sure.

A slight breeze rippling through the roses, causing one of them to work loose and begin sliding towards the edge of the fire escape abruptly made the decision for her. Without another thought, she was out the window and gathering the roses safely into her arms. Standing up, she closed her eyes as a familiar awareness swept through her senses, making the hair on the back of her neck stand on end.

"Thank you for the roses. Now, go away."

There was no answer to her low whisper. Not a sound. Not one indication to assure her she wasn't talking to herself.

Except, she knew she wasn't.

With the roses clutched in front of her, protectively, she finally turned to face him, at the same time wondering who she was going to end up facing. She found herself blinking at a large red S and two crossed arms. She sighed and decided she's just a soon look at them as anything else.

"You're welcome." Before Lois could form any coherent words, he gestured towards her bags. "You seem to be going on a trip. Do you need a lift?"

That brought her eyes up to his. "From you? I don't think so. And even if I did, how do I know you won't drop me in the nearest ocean?" The second the words were out, she regretted them, but he began speaking before she could say anything else.

"The idea does have merit. In fact, I have to admit there've been times in the last few years when I might've been tempted. Unfortunately, I seem to have developed this uncontrollable habit of rescuing you, instead."

His eyes were twinkling and she scowled back at him. "A real pity."

"Isn't it, though?"

"Listen, I have better—"

"So, where're you off to?"

"Not that it's any of your business." He continued to wait and she made a face. "Look, I've decided I need a few days away from here … to think things over. I haven't had time to decide where I'm going yet."

"Well, in that case, I know the perfect place."

"Now wait a minute—"

"It's a great place to think. You'll love it." He took a step closer and her hand automatically came up to stop his movement. "Be careful or you'll drop the roses. Better bundle them up so they won't get too much wind."

Immediately distracted, Lois hastily gathered the flowers tighter into the wrapper and clutched them closer to her chest. Since they were already leaving Metropolis behind by the time she realized how she'd been maneuvered, she gave up the fight, temporarily, although not gracefully. "You're not playing fair at all. You know that, don't you?"

A chuckle vibrated against her ear. "Coming from you, that could be considered a compliment."

"Well, it's not, so don't get cocky. You haven't won yet."

"Lo-is, this isn't a win-lose situation." He sighed heavily and shrugged, bouncing her around in the process. Her frown deepened to let him know she wasn't pleased with the unnecessary turbulence. "And even if it was, I prefer to think we could both come out of it as winners."

"Or, we could both end up losers."

"Yes, or as losers." For a moment, he was silent then he looked directly at her. "But I do not intend to end up losing. Anything or in any way."