By Delaney <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted May 1998
Summary: The reporters' investigation into an unsolved murder forces them to rethink their definition of "justice." But their involvement in the emotional case could cost them their relationship … or even their lives. Set directly following the episode "Don't Tug on Superman's Cape," this outstanding story will have you on the edge of your seat.
The characters are the property of DC Comics, Warner Bros. and whatever blessed soul has the wisdom to buy the rights and air the much-loved episodes of "Lois and Clark". This is my first fanfic (or any fiction for that matter). Your comments (in their gentlest form) would be much appreciated.
This story does not character bend or reach to new heights. It is just a fun little excerpt out of our cherished couple's lives. In terms of continuity, this page in the Lois and Clark Book of Love is directly after "Don't Tug on Superman's Cape," but before Lois transforms into the beloved Ultra Woman.
I know there was no time lapse between the 'Bad Brain' incident and the appearance of Ultra Woman, but work with me: let's say two or three days passed before the baby cried in the well and the Newtrich sisters stepped on the scene with red Kryptonite.
Our intrepid reporters have had their 'Welcome Back' party, but the day has been pretty uneventful. The only thing of interest has been Perry's quick departure from the office. He was called out of town by his wife (this is very uncharacteristic of the crotchety but charming editor, but Alice has demanded. Hey, he has got to get back in her good graces!).
Lois and Clark decide to enjoy a normal night out. But let's be real: when have they *ever* had a 'normal night out'?
"I thought we could try something different," Clark smiled. "A night at the ball field." He adjusted his baseball cap. Lois admired the snug fit of his white pants and baby blue jersey splayed with the proud name of 'Tigers' across his chest. When he had mentioned earlier in the week that he had agreed to participate in a Children's Home fund-raiser, she had not realized it would be so entertaining.
"I enjoyed the evening," she said, stifling a laugh in memory of him sliding into third. It was a shame that Clark was tagged out by the baseman. He had argued the call. Unmoved, the twelve-year-old umpire sent him to the dugout.
Lois stared out the windshield at the shrouding forest surrounding them, while Clark maneuvered his partner's Jeep along the narrow dirt paths of Roman State Park. The sounds of a soulful singer crying the blues filled the car. Clark glanced over at his date for the evening. She appeared to be mesmerized by the stars in the clear night sky.
"You just don't see this in the city," she marveled, craning her neck to look at the moon, oblivious to the admiring gaze of her partner. She breathed deeply and closed her eyes. The smell of rain filled her nostrils, but there was not a cloud in sight. She could still see the stars against the dark of her eyelids.
"No, you don't." He lowered his eyes to her long, muscular legs, unadorned by hosiery or office-length skirts. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat with the thought of her creamy thighs. It was hard enough to look at her in her threadbare cut-off shorts and one of his old, fading Midwestern U sweatshirts. If he focused on any specific body part in detail, Clark would be heady with desire.
Lois was intoxicatingly beautiful. Her stunning features had often turned heads, but it was her sharp intellect and smoldering emotions that kept Clark besotted. Layers of determination and curiosity had made Lois a renowned reporter at the 'Daily Planet,' but beneath the hard-bitten, sometimes reckless, other-times savvy exterior beat the heart of a little girl lost. Clark had seen it, but he had been one of the privileged few.
Lois was fragile. Not because she was a woman. She could hold her own with any man in the news game. No, she was fragile because of her choppy childhood. With her parents' disastrous marriage and her remote relationship with her father, Lois nurtured an unhealing wound often inflicted by dysfunctional families on their children — the doubt that they are good enough for anything.
Lois was particularly insecure with regard to personal relationships. She was unsure of her heart and did not trust any feeling it produced. At least, she *hadn't* trusted those feelings. Lois had made a conscious choice to free the little girl within her and allow her inner child to bask in the sun. Clark was that sun.
Clark thought of Lois on the sidelines of the Coates Children's Home game, cheering until she was hoarse. He blushed at the memory, having almost been struck out because he had been paying more attention to her bouncing in the stands than to the peewee pitcher on the field.
"Clark, look out!" Lois yelled, reaching for the steering wheel. Clark stepped hard on the brake, sending the silver Cherokee Jeep into a jarring spin. Gravel sprayed against the car as it slid off the road.
"Ahh," Lois gasped, colliding with the edge of the steering wheel. She dangled awkwardly from her seat-belt, dazed by the sudden turn of events. She felt her head for any blood. Nothing. She looked to her side. "Clark?" He lay against the door. His head was buried in long weeds that jutted into the open window. "Clark, are you okay?" She tried to reach for him, was hampered by her restraints.
"I'm all right, Lois. Are *you* okay?" He rose slowly to show that he was indeed fine.
"Just hanging around," she joked half-heartedly.
Clark disentangled himself from his safety belt and the steering wheel, removing the keys from the ignition. The crickets' nightsong replaced that of Ella Fitzgerald. Clark pulled out of his own seat and maneuvered towards Lois. Against gravity, he held her tightly to her seat, so she could escape her lap belt.
With her freed, Clark twisted in between the seats to catch her. Lois landed against his iron chest. Using him as a bridge, she crawled to the back seat. "Ow." Clark turned his head to avoid being kicked by her size seven canvas sneakers.
The two wiggled into a standing position. Lois watched as Clark worked the back door latch, opening the door and floating effortlessly beyond. A soft tingle shivered down her spine. She never got over watching him float into the air. The sight made her weak in the knees.
Clark steadied himself on the edge to lift Lois from the crippled car. Without exertion, he brought Lois to him, making sure her body did not scrape against the exit.
Safely on the road, the couple surveyed the situation. "Great," Lois muttered. The Jeep had fallen beyond the edge of the road and turned onto its side in a muddy ditch. Lois sighed. 'Another trip to the body shop,' she thought.
Meanwhile, Clark grabbed hold of the side runner and pulled the Jeep back to its upright position. Almost everything appeared to be fine, save for the muck and scraps on the driver's side.
"Keys, please?" Lois stood with one hand on her hip and the other held out expectantly.
"You're welcome." Clark shook his head at her lack of gratitude.
"It's not that I don't appreciate you pulling my car out of the ditch. I just would have rather you hadn't put it there in the first place," she smiled, teasingly.
Clark bowed his head with a tinge of guilt. "Well, I couldn't run over a poor defenseless animal." He motioned in the direction of a long-gone raccoon. He jingled the keys, holding them out to her.
The window of the passenger seat shattered.
"Lois, get down!" Clark yanked his companion down to the ground. Cursing, she pressed her knees into the gravel road.
"What was that?" she shrieked, pushing her hair out of her face. A shot rang through the air.
"Someone is shooting at us." Lois looked around incredulously, "Why is someone shooting at us?"
"I wonder," Clark retorted, giving his partner a sideways glance. Why did anyone *ever* shoot at them?' The reporting team of Lane and Kent had been the object of more snipers' scopes than either of them cared to tally.
"You don't have to be snide, Clark Kent. It's a legitimate question. We haven't uncovered any scandal in the past few days."
The last article they'd written had been about restaurant health inspections — 'Dirty Dining'. It was true the two had sullied the reputation of one or two eating establishments. Still, all the owners needed to do were make a few adjustments: turn the freezer up a few degrees or use a different hand sanitizer. Nothing to *kill* anyone over, let alone her.
"We need to get away from the car. If whomever hits the gas tank…"
The two crawled away from the car. Bullets whizzed passed them. One lodged itself in a telephone pole dangerously close to them.
"Who is shooting at us?"
"Can we figure that out *after* we are out of the line of fire?" Clark asked, searching for sanctuary.
"We most definitely will," Lois declared, wincing from the rock embedded into her knees. Why couldn't she be wearing jeans tonight? Oh no, she had to try to look pretty for her partner. What had she been thinking?
"Get in the ditch." Clark helped her climb down the dirt incline.
"Whoa," she yelped. He watched her tumble and land in the muddy bottom. Unable to help himself, he smiled, seeing her sitting in the muck, covered from head to toe. Clark was thankful that it was dark, otherwise he would pay for finding her predicament amusing.
"I'll be right back." A flash of baby blue faded into the night.
She growled in frustration, grabbing cattails to aid her in standing. The weeds slipped through her grimy fingers, sending Lois reeling back into the mud. She cried out in pain; unlike the first time, she had fallen on something hard. She reached into the mud. "What is going *on*? First, my car is in a ditch, then I'm being shot at. Now, I've broken my tailbone on a tree."
Lois struggled to pull the protruding limb out from under her. She yanked, releasing it from the calf-deep muck. Focusing her eyes on the limb, the cool summer night's air began to catch in her throat. Quickly, she scrambled to her feet, digging into the walls of the ravine.
Clark soared above the trees, in search of their attackers. He spied a small pick-up truck on a hill some hundred yards from where Lois now huddled. Angry, he swooped down on the rusted vehicle. Two drunken hunters, warbling a bar song, sat perched on the hood. Each held a beer bottle in one hand and a rifle in the other.
Clark scowled in disgust. "What do you think you are doing?" He hovered in front of them.
The two men looked bewildered. "Goo' Eb'nin," the younger-looking of the two slurred, "We were out here lookin' fa deer. Celebratin' my new prom'tion. Got myself a gig at one of those new big buildin's," the man boasted.
"We all like to celebrate, but this is a state park. It is illegal to hunt here," Clark glowered. "And you have been engaged in drinking. I would think that experienced hunters would know better."
The two men began to snicker as though Superman had told a joke. Annoyed, Clark pulled the guns out of the men's hands. "We don't have no licenses, Supe," the older one laughed.
"Then we'll be visiting the park ranger." With that, Clark hauled the offenders into the air, both losing the contents of their bladders as they took flight.
Moments later, Clark reappeared above Lois in his baseball uniform. "Lois?"
"Clark!" Lois chirped, "There's a body in this ditch!"
"Inspector Henderson said that he should have an ID on the man soon. I'll call first thing in the morning," Clark said, closing his apartment door behind him. He watched Lois walk over to the couch. She wanted to sit down, but was unwilling to touch anything.
"Do you have something that I could change into?" she asked, sizing up her own muddy disarray.
"Yeah. Hold on." In a blink, Clark went to his dresser, found clothes to fit Lois's small figure, and handed them to her.
"Do you mind if I use your shower first?" she asked, stepping in its direction.
"My shower is your shower, my lady." He bowed graciously. "Or at least, I would *like* it to be."
Lois gave him a pointed look. Clark smiled. He knew that he was pushing her with those types of comments, but an undying determination fuelled him. He had waited too long and come too far to lose his dream now: a dream so close to reality that Clark could taste its sweetness. But, as close as it seemed, it still eluded his grasp. Revealing himself as the 'Man of Steel' had nearly dashed his hopes of Lois as his wife. She had been infuriated by his deception — not to mention confused by her feelings for two men who turned out to be one and the same. Clark cringed at the memory of the hurt look in her eyes.
Now that she had had time to absorb the truth, and could see that he was still the Clark that she had trusted, he hoped against hope that she would agree to spend the rest of her life with him.
He listened to the sound of the faucets running and the soft hum of Lois's singing. He fought the urge to peer over his glasses through the door. Hmmm, how many times had he resisted that desire? To gaze at her. To touch her. To… Clark took a deep breath, trying to subdue the electricity rising through his body.
He was standing in the same spot when Lois emerged. Clad in his Midwestern U football jersey and boxers, she looked puzzled at his stance. "Clark? Mothership to Clark. Come in, Clark." Lois did a little jig to get his attention.
Regaining his composure, Clark took off his ball cap. "I want to talk about the story first. Can you imagine being hit on a dark, deserted road? How awful." Lois pulled her legs under her as she sat on the couch.
"As opposed to being run down in the middle of rush hour? Yeah, I image that that's pretty bad," Clark teased. "And what story do you see in this evening's escapades?" he asked, knowing full well what she was focusing on. He balled up his shirt and shot it into the bathroom hamper. The evening was going to boil down to 'a story'. The ball game, moonlight ride, ditch, and even the drunken shooters were all forgotten. Lois had moved on to something she could print. Clark sighed knowingly; the rest of the evening was going to be work-related.
"Show-off." Lois rolled her eyes. "What story? What *story?*" she repeated in disbelief. "Do you think I— I mean, *we*, find a dead body in a ditch and there's no story? Clark Kent, I thought I taught you better than that."
Clark disappeared behind the wall that separated his bedroom from the rest of the apartment. A frenzied breeze blew a copy of 'Sports Illustrated' from the table to the floor. "No, Lois, I am not saying that there is no story. Clearly, there *is* a story. But what story? At midnight, with no leads. No ID on the victim. We need to at least get an ID on the Doe. Wait a minute; I need to shower."
Not much longer than a minute went by when he re-appeared in front of her, smelling of soap. "Clark, we have followed a story on less."
"Morning, Lois. First thing, I promise."
She glared at him, trying to think of an argument to his suggestion. But the truth was that she had nothing to go on in the middle of the night. She would not be able to thoroughly search the crime scene with only moonlight to guide her. Clark could, of course, but it was clear that he was unwilling to leave the safe confines of his apartment.
"I'll make a deal with you," she said, narrowing her eyes and giving him a cunning smile. "If you… elicit Superman's help in combing the crime scene for clues tonight, then I will…"
"You will what?" Clark interrupted slyly, lowering his glasses.
"I will give you my undivided attention when we return." She arched one eyebrow, slowly inching up his body with her eyes. She rested her gaze on his bottom lip before meeting his hungry stare.
"Superman for sexual favors, Lois? I don't think that would be ethical."
"Oh, Clark!" She grabbed a cushion from the couch and threw it at him, mildly exasperated.
Feigning defense, he held up his arms to avoid her ammunition. "Okay, okay. But put on my sweatpants and a windbreaker first. It's cool, flying at night."
"I know that," she quipped, planting a kiss on his cheek. "I'm a frequent flyer."
He rolled his eyes. He worshipped the ground this woman walked on. Unfortunately, she was all too aware of her power. He would have to do something to curtail future manipulations. What, he did not know. His body was like steel, but his heart resembled something akin to Jell-O when it came to her.
Quickly, he spun into his blues — 'the suit,' as Lois and his parents referred to it. He waited while she changed, laughing at the sight of her in his sweatpants, drawstring cinched to the hilt. He scooped her into his arms, stepped out onto the balcony and soared into the dark sky.
The city of Metropolis was breathtaking from the sky. Lex Tower shone brightly against the darkness. All other skyscrapers sat in its luxurious shadow as though they were thatched huts paying patronage to the palace. Lois shivered, remembering her aborted wedding atop the Tower and her fiance, Lex Luthor's, macabre death. At least, what she had thought to be his death: Lex Luthor was alive and well, corroding in a jail cell on Stryker's Island. Lois pulled closer to Clark, nuzzling into the crook of his neck. She was safe in his arms.
Clark hovered over the trees, searching for the yellow tape of the crime scene. He carefully put Lois down, reluctantly freeing her from his arms. "Okay, I am searching," he said, floating above the trench. He lowered himself as close to the ground as possible without touching it. Nothing, so far.
Clark inched back, scouring the earth. With a sigh, he returned to Lois's view. "I can't see anything. If there *was* anything here, forensics probably picked it up when the examiners took the body."
Lois refused to concede. "Look again." Clark raised his eyebrow. The tone in her voice told him she meant business. Never mind that she was speaking to the most powerful being on the planet; he was to do her bidding, with no hesitation.
He did, lowering himself again, retracing his search. This time, a glint of silver caught his eye. Something was buried in the wall of the ravine. Methodically, Clark dug around the area of his interest. As he neared it, he could see that it was a curved piece of silver — a piece of jewellery, possibly a bracelet.
Clark returned to his partner, handing her the charm. "Don't say anything," he smiled seeing the message behind her eyes. Lois always loved to be right. She was as competitive as Lex Luthor was evil. Being able to say 'I told you so' was sometimes better to her than Rocky Road fudge.
"All right," Lois said, smiling. She hopped into Superman's arms and nuzzled his nose with her own. She pointed to the sky and, in her most snobbish tone, said, "Home, James."
Clark snickered. "From superhero to chauffeur in just one night." He lifted into the air, content with his new station in life.
"City Room, can I help you?" Jimmy Olsen swung around in the Editor-in-Chief's chair, kicking his feet up onto the desk.
"Jimmy, get your feet off my desk!" Perry White crackled over the line.
Jimmy jumped guiltily. "Ummm, Chief, your desk… I don't know what…"
"Listen, Jimmy, this shindig that Alice has me going to is taking longer than we expected."
Jimmy smiled. The Chief had been forced to go to a wedding by his life-long companion. She had told him in no uncertain terms that if he did *not* go, *she* would not come back. Jimmy chuckled at the Chief's response. 'Jimmy,' he had said, 'Elvis was the King, performing before the eyes of the world. But a king without his queen is nothing but a pauper.' Perry had begun to croon the sounds of 'Return to Sender': 'Return to Sender, Address unknown. No such number, not at home…'
"Jimmy!" The Chief snapped his budding photo-journalist back to attention.
"Blast it, Jimmy," Perry said, lowering his voice in a conspiratorial tone, "you have got to get me *out* of here. I can't take it. Alice's sisters have done nothing but talk about knitting, flower arrangements and the devilish deeds of men. In all that is Memphis, I need the hum of faxes and the scratch of no.2 pencils."
"What do you need me to do, Chief?" Perry White with 'Planet' withdrawal was not a sight Jimmy wanted to picture.
"Call me in an hour. Make up some kind of an emergency. I don't care, just have me on the next flight out."
"You got it." Jimmy hung up the phone, combing his fingers through his sandy brown hair. What would be an acceptable excuse for Alice? He leaned back in the chair to think of Perry's alibi. The plane reservations. He'd almost forgotten. He reached for the receiver as it shook with an incoming call.
"City Room. Lois Lane? One minute." Jimmy peeked his head out of Perry's office. He scanned the buzzing newsroom in search of the prettier half of the number one news team in print. Spying her at CK's desk, he smiled inwardly. Lois and CK could always be found within a minute's range of the other… except when CK took off unexpectedly. Those moments were a mystery.
"Lois," Jimmy howled across the sound of fax modems and hustling reporters, "Line one."
Lois leaned over Clark, deliberately pushing her chest into his face, picking up his receiver. With nowhere else to look, he took in the curvy shape of the woman on his desk. What was she trying to do to him?
"Lois Lane. Henderson? Yes, Inspector. We were just going to call you. An ID on the Doe? That's great. Oh. Are you sure?" Lois sat up, pulling the cord across Clark's desk. "Kevin Macmaster? Kevin Macmaster of the Ali-Macmaster Project?"
A sparkle surfaced in her mahogany eyes. She shot a meaningful wink in Clark's direction. She was on to something. She reached behind Clark for a spare tablet to jot some notes.
"Lois," Clark gasped, strangled in the receiver's cord.
Lois ignored her partner, listening intently for another moment and jotting some notes on a tablet beside her. "Uh-huh. Okay. Thank you for the information, Inspector."
She untangled the cord around Clark's windpipe. He cleared his throat, rubbing the corded muscles in his neck. "And to think I'm your best friend. I'd hate to be your enemy."
Lois patted him on the shoulder, pulling a wayward lock of hair behind her ear. "The Doe is Kevin Macmaster."
"From Ali-Macmaster?" Clark asked.
"One and the same. He was supposed to be in the Cayman Islands, wasn't he? A vacation? A merger? I'm not sure."
Both of them scanned the room, looking for their trusted right-hand man. "Jimmy!" they chorused.
Jimmy popped his head out of the Chief's office, the phone cradled under his ear. He looked for who was paging him. Spying Lois's expectant face, he knew he was in for an afternoon of research. He signaled to her that he would be there in a minute.
"What's Jimmy doing in Perry's office? He's been in there all morning" Lois asked. She reclaimed her seat on the corner of Clark's desk.
"Probably fixing his foot massager," Clark chuckled, smiling at his own joke. It had not been that long ago that the Chief would assign Jimmy to the most curious errands, squelching all journalistic endeavors.
"Yeah?" Jimmy asked, walking towards the couple.
"Jimmy, we need everything you can find on Kevin Macmaster. And give us the lowdown on the Ali-Macmaster project." Lois nibbled on the end of a pencil while she ticked off the information she wanted.
"You mean the riverfront thing? Yeah, okay. I'll see what I can turn up." Another reporter summoned Jimmy to her, waving her hand. He quickly crossed the newsroom.
"How is it that a respectable businessman is found in a muddy ditch on the outskirts of town?" Lois walked back to her desk with her partner in tow.
"Especially when he was believed to be in the Islands?" Clark speculated, "I believe we have stumbled on to a case of foul play, my dear." He looked at Lois over his wire frames.
"Hmmm," she hummed and gnawed at the rubber bit in her mouth. "Let's start with the bracelet." She removed a sandwich bag from her jacket pocket. "STAR Labs or the police station?"
The two stared at the bag in silence, each forming a strategy similar to the other. "STAR Labs," they voiced in unison. Clark smiled to himself. It was uncanny how they managed to come to the same conclusions at the same time. It was as if they were of the same mind.
At that thought, he coughed. He and Lois of the same mind? If that were true, the two of them would spend more time on his couch watching old movies, and much less with her falling out of windows into his super powered arms. Clark smiled despite himself. There was no doubt about it — his soul mate had a penchant for danger.
"You okay?" Lois asked, patting his muscular back.
Clark cleared his throat. "Mm-hmm. Just a tickle in my throat." He coughed again for good measure.
Disappearing into the elevator, Clark watched Jimmy walk back into the Managing Editor's office. What *was* Jimmy doing? Redecorating?
"No, Peterson, I have not seen your E.coli sample. Maybe you left it in the men's room. No, Peterson, I am *not* suggesting that you're incompetent. Well, I'm sorry if it came out that way. Yes, sometimes I say things…" Bernard Klein sat hunched over his microscope, the phone pressed into his ear by his shoulder. "No, Peterson."
Without looking up, Dr. Klein reached for another slide. Clark watched the man grope the table. Dr. Klein was a scientific genius, but the man sometimes had trouble navigating beyond his microscope. Clark slid the slide under the scientist's hand. Oblivious to his visitors, Dr. Klein replaced the sample. "Goodbye, Peterson." He hung up the phone.
"Dr. Klein," Lois spoke.
Startled, Dr. Klein looked up. "Lois, Clark — is this a social call? Because if so, let me tell you about one of my colleagues, Peterson. He would lose his microscope if it was nailed to the table."
"We need a favor, Dr. Klein," Clark cut in.
"Oh, well, yes. What do you need to me to do?" Klein asked, looking rejected.
Clark tried again. "I mean, if you have time. We understand that you're needed by your colleagues."
"Yes, Dr. Klein, if you have the time," Lois agreed, pulling the baggie out of her pocket once again.
Mollified, Dr. Klein smiled. "For you two, I will make the time. What do you need?" He shook his head. "I still feel bad about the Lakes and that stolen Kryptonite."
"We need you to tell us what this is." Lois handed the bag to her scientist friend.
"All right, what do we have here?" Dr. Klein donned a pair of gloves and pulled the piece of jewellery from the bag. "It's a bracelet," he said, perusing the scrap of metal. "A child's silver bracelet, from what I can see.
He looked to Lois and Clark's expectant faces, seeing that they wanted more than the obvious from his analysis. "I will run a few tests to see if there is any skin or blood remnants. I should have the results by tomorrow."
"Thank you, Dr. Klein."
Leaving Dr. Klein with this new project, Lois and Clark headed for the elevator. "What do you think?" Lois asked, pushing the button for the ground floor.
Clark leaned against the back wall of the elevator. "I think that I am hungry. You want to stop for an early lunch?"
Lois rolled her eyes. Clark would eat a horse if given the space and opportunity. "I was talking about the story. What do you think of the story?"
"I *know* what you were talking about, Lois. *I* was talking about lunch. Actually, I was asking if you would like to have lunch?" Clark reached for her waist, drawing her into his arms.
"Okay, where are we talking? Beijing? Paris? Maybe Cairo; I hear it has the *best* baklava." She pressed her hands against his well-built chest.
"I was thinking the cafe on Westminster Avenue. I believe they have an excellent pastrami on rye and a fudge sundae that's better than…"
"Sex," Lois finished for him.
Clark colored at the look of desire in Lois's large eyes. "Uh, that is what they say." He lowered his head, catching her lips in his own.
The elevator doors opened. Regretfully, Lois pulled away. It was becoming more and more difficult to leave Clark's arms, she thought. She rubbed her left hand, thinking of the engagement ring she knew he had for her. All she had to say was 'yes'. Why was that so hard for her to do? She knew Clark would never do anything to harm her. He was not Luthor or Claude or any of the countless clods with which she'd crossed paths. Clark would die for her, and nearly had, many times over.
So why the apprehension when she thought of marriage? Maybe because the thought of being anyone's "Mrs." was enough to make her leap out of her skin. But to be Mrs. Superman, forced to sacrifice warm nights by the fire, having to sit idly by while he flew off into unknown disaster — none of those scenarios had 'Lois Lane' written on them.
Lois sighed inwardly. "Cafe on Westminster, it is."
Steering the Jeep onto the freeway, Lois and Clark discussed what they knew so far. "Okay, after lunch, we should find out what Jimmy has. I'm not all that familiar with the Ali-Macmaster Project. I was covering that story on the White House spy ring when the announcement was made," Lois recalled, passing into the far lane.
"The Ali-Macmaster Project… Big riverfront renovation deal. Jared Ali says that he is going to rebuild the whole front, creating new jobs for the city and bringing more business to Metropolis. You remember, he made the statement, 'Lex Luthor's empire was for the taking.'" Clark winced. Just saying Luthor's name caused physical pain.
"Oh, yes." Lois tensed at the utterance of Lex's name. She pulled back into the right lane. "I remember. Lex couldn't have been too happy."
"I imagine Luthor is unhappy for many reasons," Clark remarked wryly. He breathed deeply, staring out of his window trying to dissipate the hatred welling in his body.
Lex Luthor was the one being on this planet who had earned Clark Kent's, as well as his alter ego's, antipathy. His emotions were fraught with anger and fear at the past. The thought of Luthor touching Lois rocked his gut with fire. He blamed himself for Lois's delusions. Lex had wined and dined Lois and Clark had said nothing, not until it was too late. Clark believed that he should have made her notice him, not as a partner, but as a potential lover. In the back of his mind, he knew he was beating himself up for something which he had no control over. Still the fire burned. He wondered if Lois's disastrous wedding to Luthor was one of the reasons she didn't say 'I do' to him.
The Jeep grew quiet. Lois moved the car onto the Westminster off-ramp. Wanting to return to a less sensitive topic, Lois began covering their facts and speculations again. "So, we have Jared Ali, industrialist, wanting to renovate riverfront Metropolis."
"And we have a child's bracelet found near the body of Kevin Macmaster."
"Not to mention, we have Kevin Macmaster, not in the Cayman Islands, but in the city morgue…"
"Found in a ditch in the back roads of our fair city."
Lois parked in front of the small window-front cafe. "Feed the meter for me, please. I've got to get to that sundae," she giggled.
"Chief, the earliest I could get you out on a flight is tomorrow night." Jimmy held his breath. He had tried to get the Chief on an earlier flight in Des Moines, but there must have been a Midwest exodus in the making because all flights to the east coast were booked.
"Nothing sooner, huh? Well, that's okay. It will give Alice a chance to get used to the idea. Maybe my tailfeathers won't be singed. Uh, thank you, son. You came through for me." Jimmy grinned at Perry's approval. "Now, put me up to speed. What is going on in my newsroom?" Perry demanded.
Jimmy related the details of the paper's goings-on. Linda in the society section was home with a hangover. Jake in sports was trying to get an interview with Bulls' MVP, Jordan. And of course, Lois and Clark were on the trail of what might be a front page headline. "They suspect that a 'hit-and-run' is somehow connected to the Riverfront deal with Jared Ali."
"Jared Ali?" Perry questioned. "Is any other paper onto this, Jimmy? This could be a scoop."
"Ali's partner, Macmaster, is the body that they found. They only identified him about an hour ago, so I don't think any other paper has got a whiff of it. Not yet, anyway."
Jimmy looked into the newsroom. No sign of Lois or Clark. He still had some time to research. He flicked the switch on the Chief's console.
"Tell those kids to get the lead out. A story waits for no reporter. I want to see a scoop on this one. If Ali is in any way tied to his partner's death, I want people to read about it in the Daily Planet." Perry was excited now; his people were onto something. There was nothing more satisfying then a scoop, especially on that stray dog of a paper, the Metropolis Star.
Jimmy keyed search terms into the Planet database. "I'm on it, Chief. Um, do you want me to pick you up from the airport or are you going to take a cab?"
"Pick me up? That would be mighty nice of you, son." The smile on Perry's face was apparent in his voice. That boy was like one of his own. "Don't be late," he said gruffly, trying to cover his first response.
"Okay, Chief." Jimmy hung up the phone. "Pick Perry up at the airport," he murmured to himself, delving into Kevin Macmaster and Jared Ali's past.
"Lois, do you think that maybe the renovation deal is a cover- up?" Clark bit into his pickle. His face soured. "Whoo, this pickle goes beyond tart."
Lois reached over the table, biting it out of his hand. "I have a taste for tangy." She grew a devilish grin, a trickle of juice trailing down her chin.
Clark eyed her mouth, watching her catch the dribble with her tongue. "Why do I get the feeling you aren't talking about pickles?"
"I don't know, Clark…" She played innocently, opening her eyes wide in mock wonder.
Clark shook himself slightly in an attempt to stop the beginning ache below his navel. This reaction from a pickle, he thought. What would happen if… when… if… no, *when* she agreed to marry him? The fantasy tightened every muscle in his body.
Lois giggled seeing Clark squirm under her gaze. 'What was he thinking? And did it involve chocolate syrup? she wondered, becoming lost in her own lascivious brainwork.
With both daydreaming of each other, neither noticed the waiter approach. "Could I interest you in dessert?"
"Hot fudge sundae," they chorused. Both blushed, realizing their absence from the world around them.
"To go," Clark added as the waiter walked away.
"What did you ask me?" Lois inquired a bit sheepishly.
"Umm…" Clark searched his mind for his original thought. "Do you think this could be a cover-up?"
Lois rolled her eyes. "Aren't they all?" She put a few bills on the table, smiling inwardly. With all the men in her life, she had never been as comfortable as she was with Clark. Well, there was Superman, after she had flown with him a time or two. But it just so happened that the two were one and the same. So, it still was only one man who had whisked her off her feet and made her think she could do no wrong. He also made her relaxed when it came to gender roles and her personal struggle with independence. In all her years, she had paid her own way, afraid to leave it to a man. In her experience, if you let them pay once or buy you flowers, they thought they owned you. What was that old adage — 'give them an inch, they'll take a mile.' Well, she wasn't giving her independence up for anything. Not if Elvis, himself, offered to whisk her to Graceland.
Clark, however, had never asked her to give up her autonomy. Once or twice he had suggested she stop hanging off flagpoles, but he never insisted on paying a tab to prove his manliness like so many of the insecure knuckleheads that she'd known. No, Clark would simply pay for the gas on the way home, taking care to bring her a Fudge Crunch from inside the station. Or he would whisk her off to Borneo or Tanzania, where she wasn't even sure what the currency *was*.
Clark was strong, stronger than any man on this earth; moreover, he was the most gentle man on this earth. At least, in her opinion. Well, Cat seemed to think so, too, and so did Mayson Drake. What the heck was wrong with Lana Lang? Lois made a mental note: 'If ever I meet the blonde from Smallville, ask her if she hit her head as a baby?' Lois laughed to herself.
"What's so funny?" Clark queried.
"Oh, nothing." She picked up the bagged sundaes. "Let's see what Jimmy's got."
"I've got plenty." Jimmy plopped a folder onto Lois's desk. "Just call me 'The Operator'. You call me and I'll get you the 4-1-1."
"The what?" Lois asked, scanning the first few pages of the file.
"The 4-1-1. It means…"
"It means the information, Lois," Clark interjected, a laughing grin on his face.
"That's right, CK." Jimmy raised his hand, giving a hi-five to Clark.
Lois gave a crooked grin. "Since when are you onto all the latest lingo, Mr. Kent?"
"I watch my MTV, Ms. Lane." He flashed one of his deep, dimpled grins. Lois's heart fluttered and she joined in the laughter shared by her closest friends.
"Says here that Macmaster and Ali have been partners for ten years." Clark thumbed through the material, trying not to read too quickly. Here he was, twenty-nine years old, and still he was uneasy about fitting in — down to the speed of his reading. Life of an alien was sometimes so… so… alienating.
"Prosperous dealings with Luthor Industries. Ali and Macmaster did not take a bath when Lex went under," Clark surmised. "As a matter of fact, the company gained ground. With little competition on the riverfront, that left development wide open for Ali-Macmaster."
Lois sat on her desk and leaned against Clark's shoulder. "What about Church? Didn't he have a take on the river?" She waited for her partner's insight.
"Yeah, but apparently, Macmaster and Ali got around that. Maybe made a deal under the table?"
"Maybe? Do you think something went sour? Maybe Macmaster wanted something — more money — and threatened to turn south on the deal?"
"Could be," Clark nodded.
"Or," Jimmy chimed, "it could have something to do with Macmaster's family."
"His family?" Lois wrinkled her brow, waiting for Jimmy to explain further.
Lois picked up one of the many photos that were amongst the papers. It was one of the past glossies that picture cowboys like Jimmy had used for previous stories. A handsome dark-skinned man smiled, his head between a striking dark-eyed woman and newborn child. Another man, with a similar face to the woman's, stood behind them. All were beaming, in front of a Mercedes-Benz.
Lois vaguely recognized the second man as the unfortunate body she'd discovered the night before. She read the caption attached: Jared Ali with wife, Celia, and new-born daughter, Ka, returning home from the hospital. Partner and uncle, Kevin Macmaster, proud as punch.
"Yeah. Apparently, Macmaster and Ali are brothers by marriage. Ali is married to Macmaster's sister," Jimmy informed them.
"Or he *was*," Clark replied, reading deeper into the file. "They divorced about a year ago."
"Yeah, but not before Ali had his wife committed."
Both Clark and Lois looked at Jimmy, an expression of disbelief plain on both their faces. "Ouch," Clark echoed Lois's thoughts. "That would make it tough to come to work in the morning. If your partner locked your sister in a sanatorium?"
Jimmy nodded his agreement. "I wouldn't go to that family picnic."
Lois picked up the phone. "Let's talk to Mr. Ali and find out how bad it actually was." She turned towards the sectional wall of her desk, in order to drown the din of the newsroom.
Clark listened intently, waiting for the interview go-ahead. He did not expect to get it. What person, rich or otherwise, consented to an expose on family troubles — especially when your estranged brother-in-law was recently found dead?
Lois turned back around, her face fallen. "Our interview has been denied."
"And?" Clark asked expectantly.
Her fallen expression changed to determination. "And we are going over there, right now."
"That's what I thought."
Jimmy and Clark gave each other a knowing look as they parted. Lois Lane would not be stopped by a mere 'decline to comment'. She would have to be bodily thrown out on her petite derriere. Another good reason to have a strapping Adonis as her partner; he kept her from landing on her duff.
"So, Lois, what exactly are you going to say?" Clark wondered aloud. "Are you going to march up to the door, push the maid aside and accuse Jared Ali of murdering his partner?"
Lois scrunched her face in disdain. "What do you take me for, Kent?" 'Kent' — that meant Clark was in trouble. "I am a professional. I will simply tell Mr. Ali, or whatever guard dog he has at the door, that we have evidence implicating him in the murder."
Without missing a beat, she stepped off the elevator in the direction of the car garage. Clark hung back a moment in scorn. "Lois," he caught up to her without effort, "You are planning to lie?"
"Clark…" She unlocked her door. "'Lie' is such a strong word."
"Yes, but accurate." He slid into his customary position as the passenger.
She did the driving while he did the flying. It was a balance they had established even before she had learned the truth about him. Clark thought that was one of life's small omens that they were meant to be together. So what if they did not always agree on how to handle a case — for instance, this particular tactic she was entertaining at the moment? The signs were still there. Clark Kent and Lois Lane were a text-case example of preternatural symbiosis. A bubbling warmth filled within him as he toyed with the concept.
"Not necessarily." Lois pulled into the sun-lit streets of downtown. "We do have the bracelet."
"For all we know, that bracelet was there before the body. It might not have anything to do with Macmaster, let alone Ali."
"You know that and I know that, but Ali doesn't."
"So if he is guilty, he will want to talk to us to find out what we know. Is that what is supposed to happen?" Clark cut a skeptical glance in her direction.
"Clark, I know what you are thinking."
"Do you?" Clark asked sarcastically, situating himself so that he could face her.
"Of course; you are pretty predictable." She smiled at Clark's rolling eyes. "You think that Ali won't say a thing."
"Why should he, Lois? He is a man of power, and where there is power there are usually henchmen. He has probably distanced himself so far from the murder that it would take a steam shovel to work our way through his story."
Lois kept smiling, undaunted by Clark's skepticism. "Maybe, but it doesn't hurt to try." She shrugged. Clark sat back in his seat. He had to give her that — it didn't hurt to try.
The two rode in silence, concentrating on their approach in case they did meet Mr. Ali. They didn't have much to go on. Ali's rap sheet had been clean. All of his business seemed to be above board. Clark thought that, outside of having his wife committed to Sunnydale, he appeared to be an ordinary family man. In fact, a person could possible have sympathy for the guy . It could not have been an easy decision to put someone you loved in an institution. Clark thoughts drifted to Lois and himself. What would he ever do if something happened to her?
"Clark…" Lois's smooth sound brought him back to his surroundings. "We're here."
"Wow." Clark took in the estate. The five-storey house, although the term 'small mansion' seemed more appropriate, stood forebodingly on the tallest of rolling hills. Surrounded by nothing but green, the grounds reminded him of a golf course.
"To have money, Clark," Lois wistfully sighed, "I would not have a care in the world."
Clark chuckled, following her to the front door. "Lois, you'd never quit your job — and that seems to be your greatest concern."
"Not my greatest," she replied quietly. Before Clark could ask her what she meant, the door opened.
"Yes?" An elderly, tawny-skinned woman, half Lois's size, with a long flowing mane, stood in the doorway.
"Yes… Lois Lane, Daily Planet. This is my partner, Clark Kent. We came to speak to Mr. Ali." Lois gave the woman a delicate smile.
The woman scowled, pushing her silver hair away from her crinkled toffee skin. She had appeared to be frail at first glance, but her open scrutiny of the two gave her a presence similar to barbed wire. "What do you want with him?" she asked sharply.
"About Kevin Macmaster," Lois answered.
"Nana?" The small voice of a child floated into the doorway. "Who's it, Nana?" The slender woman's face faltered. She turned slightly in the door, revealing a young girl cradling a bright blue ball under her arms.
Lois could not remember ever being startled by a child's looks. The little girl resembled the woman in the door, her skin a creamy brown, hidden under a river of raven tresses. But unlike the older woman with narrow, crow-footed slits for eyes, this child had the human face of a fawn. 'A human Bambi,' Lois thought.
The older woman's voice softened considerably as she spoke to her charge. "Go upstairs, Ka. It's nap time."
The child did not move. Rather, she looked beyond the woman to Lois. Their eyes met. Lois stared startled.
'Children are life in motion', a teacher friend of Lois's had once told her. 'They have unrelenting energy — like clowns, full of joy, in an imaginary circus. Their giggles are infectious. I don't care how dizzy with anger I may be, I always find myself fighting a smile. Oh, but they never stand still. Just watching them can make me tired, some days.'
The friend's voice echoed in Lois's head. 'They never stand still'. But this little girl stood stone still. Her laughter did not fill the air. She reminded Lois of a forgotten waif, sad and longing, amongst a crowded floor of expensive toys. Sorrow personified, Lois concluded, struggling to regain her composure.
The older woman turned back to Lois, blocking her view. "You must leave now." Curtly, she closed the door.
"Well, that went well," Clark jibbed, walking towards the car.
"Uh, yeah." Lois followed, her thoughts still with the little girl.
Ka ran to the picture window, pushing back the venetian blinds, watching after Lois and Clark, her toys forgotten.
"Ka," the wiry woman called, "Let's go back to your room, sweetie."
Ka stared after the silver Jeep until it disappeared over the green hill, with nothing but a dust cloud to see.
"Come on, baby. We can play a bit before your nap."
Ka heaved a sigh, shuddering her tiny shoulders. Sadness brimmed her dark lashes. She wanted the pretty lady to stay. Reluctantly turning to her grandmother, she took the proffered hand. "Nana, will you take a sleep wit' me?"
"Yes, boo. I will."
"And tell me stories about my mommy?"
The aged woman stroked her granddaughter's hair. She thought of when her own daughter was four. As if thirty years had never passed, Nana could see the twinkle of innocence in her daughter, Celia's, eyes. A weight lifted from the woman's face, remembering her baby's open joy at life. Celia had loved fairy tales and believed in all the happy endings.
Nana kneeled and looked into her grandbaby's face. No stars shone in Ka's eyes. Ka did not believe in make-believe. She was a lonely little girl who missed her mother. For Ka, all the fairies had died. The truth of those thoughts weighed heavy on Nana's chest.
A steaming brew of coffee, grew cold while Lois punched deliberately at her keyboard. She was making every effort to concentrate on her work, but her mind kept drifting. She focused on her monitor, but could only see the haunting eyes of Ka staring back at her. The little one's face was as vivid as if she was still standing in front of the reporter.
Lois had never been so strongly affected by a child. For the most part, she had stayed clear of children, convinced that she lacked any maternal instinct. But Ka, somehow, had touched Lois in a way that she did not understand. She broke Lois's heart. That was the only way Lois could explain the feeling. In seconds of matching eyes with the small raven, a heaviness swelled in her chest, making it difficult to speak.
Clark had noticed her strange silence in the car and asked if she was feeling all right. Lois could only nod, not able to gain her voice. He had looked unconvinced, but did not push her on the subject. Unlike herself, he did not seem to be at all affected by the child. But Lois did not think he had seen her the way that she had.
Lois stopped typing, resting her chin on her hands as she stared into space. She was oblivious to the bustling news room around her and made no move to answer the phone that shook on her desk. "Are you going to get that?" Clark asked, walking up to her desk.
Lois looked at him in bewilderment. "What?"
"Your phone. Are you going to answer it?" He frowned in concern. Something was on her mind.
"Oh, yeah." She reached for the receiver, returning to the world around her. "Lois Lane, Daily Planet. Mrs. Ali?" She looked wide-eyed at Clark. "Yes, we— my partner and I — will be glad to meet you. In half an hour. Centennial Park. Yes. Thank you. Goodbye."
Lois jotted down the information, although she had already committed it to memory. "We have a meeting with the former Mrs. Ali in thirty minutes." She spoke excitedly, all traces of her distracted self gone.
"Mrs. Ali? How did she know to call you?" Clark asked, surprised. One Ali refuses to speak to them and another calls. That was convenient. Maybe too convenient.
"You can ask her yourself. I would expect she got the information from the police. We *were* the ones that discovered the body of her brother."
"True," Clark agreed, but still he had an uneasy feeling about the timing. He picked up Lois's forgotten coffee and peered into it. Slowly, it began to boil.
"I could have got another cup," she said, taking it from him.
"Recycle." Clark shrugged.
The sun shone brightly on Metropolis. A balmy breeze caressed the trees and cooled the warm streets of downtown. Clark and Lois walked leisurely to the playground area of Centennial Park, choosing to sit in the shade of a great oak.
Lois watched children running through the pumps of the summer wading pool, screaming in delight as they soaked their brightly- colored bathing suits. She stared in wonderment at the small, people aware only of themselves. They hooted and hollered, bobbing up and down in the shallow pool.
Several of the smaller children cried when the play became too rough, running for solace to their parents. As quickly as a hug could be dispensed, the tears were gone and a race to the pool would mount. Back in the water, the small people's laughter carried across the park.
Parents lounged lazily at the side. They had hiked their pant legs and skirts to their knees so that they could dip their work-worn feet into the water.
Lois began to picture herself at the pool, amongst the mothers and fathers. With sunglasses atop her head and a portable computer on her lap. Lois could almost smell the chlorine. She could feel the relief of cool water lapping against her knees.
Lois could also see, almost touch, her son, gallivanting with his friends. Her heart quickened as her daydream took on a life of its own. She could hear his laughter. She could recognize his father's smile, penetrating dimples and farm boy charm. 'CJ, 'she heard herself call, 'Be careful.'
Her child would turn, sun in his eyes. "Oh, Ma!" he'd admonish, but with adoration in his eyes. The same look she had often seen played on Clark's face with his mother, Martha.
"Ms. Lane?" A soft voice from behind spoke Lois snapped back to attention. Both she and Clark turned to see the woman standing in the shadows of the tree and bush around them.
"Ms. Ali?" Lois cautiously asked.
"Yes." The woman took a small step into the sun. Lois barely recognized the woman from the photo she had seen earlier. She resembled Ka in almost every detail. Her coal-colored hair was tied in a loose tail at the nap of her neck, allowing a few wisps to fall to her striking face. Her dark eyes were hollow with dark circles beneath. She looked tired.
Lois could see that this once had been a fierce woman. Lois imagined a year of battling her husband for custody and six weeks in an institution had made her lose confidence in herself, dousing her flame.
"Thank you for meeting me here." She looked at Clark who stood silently beside Lois.
Lois noticed the pensive look on the woman's face. "This is my partner, Clark Kent. You can trust him. I do… with my life." She gestured for Mrs. Ali to sit down.
The woman eyed Clark, decided to trust him, and sat down. "I called because my mother said you wanted to see Jared about Kevin."
"Yes, we did…" Clark began.
"You may call me Celia. Ali is not a name that I am comfortable with."
"Celia," Clark repeated, "We wanted to ask about his business with Mr. Macmaster. Is there anything that you can tell us?"
Celia nodded. "All of their professional business was above board, Mr. Kent. You will not find a story there. Jared and Kevin were very careful to do all of their dealings in full view of the public eye. They came from meager means. They were not willing to risk their success on greed. At least, not professionally."
"Well, that is refreshing, Ms. Ali— I mean, Celia. Nowadays, you do not find too many honest businessmen." Lois gave a small bemused smile.
"No, I suppose not." Celia concurred dryly. "At least, I speak for Kevin. Jared is a man that I no longer claim to know." She looked at the ground in shame.
"But you do not think Jared is connected to Kevin's death?" Clark interrogated.
"I did not say that, Mr. Kent." Her dark eyes met his and her voice became thick with emotion. "I know Jared killed my brother."
Lois leaned back on her loveseat, kicking off her heels. A warm breeze blew through her hair. She looked expectantly towards her open window. But she was alone. No blue suit. Lois rested her head on the hard frame of her seat. She was exhausted. Every muscle in her body was twisted in hard knots and her stomach was crying for antacid. 'Hard-bitten reporter…' ha! She felt like the world was on her shoulders.
How, she wondered, did Clark do it? How did he watch people in pain, seeing their lives fall apart around them. Lois closed her eyes, willing the tension behind them to disappear, but to no avail. Closing her eyes only seemed to make the scene with Celia Ali easier to relive.
Clark and Lois sucked in Celia's declaration. They looked at one another. The smell of an award-winning story was in the air. "How can you be so sure?" Lois asked, easing closer to the woman huddled in the sun.
"Because…" Silent tears flowed from Celia's eyes. "…my daughter told me. She saw everything."
"Is that why you came to us, Celia? Because you are afraid for Ka?" Clark asked. The woman wiped her face and looked away from the reporters.
"What about the police?" Lois could not believe what they had stumbled onto. They had worked on kidnappings before, but never kidnappings by the family. This was new territory — emotionally wrought territory that Lois did not know how to navigate.
Celia scoffed at the question. "The police are friends of my husband. Why do you think Kevin is just now being found? I reported Kevin missing several days ago. He was supposed to meet me, but never came. The police refused to do anything. The next day, Jared had announced that Kevin traveled to the Islands to finish a deal for them."
"His disappearance dismissed," Clark interjected, understanding the corruption. Even Superman couldn't stop all the crime in Metropolis.
Celia nodded. "I think— no, I *know* that Jared is going to take Ka somewhere." Her voice cracked. "Somewhere I can never see her again."
"And you cannot report your suspicions about Jared fleeing to anyone?" Lois asked, realizing that she was grasping for straws.
"He is not 'fleeing' in the eyes of the law, Ms. Lane. He can take Ka wherever he pleases. He has sole custody."
"Sole custody," Lois echoed.
"Ms. Lane, Mr. Kent, I realize that I have put the cart before the horse. Let me explain."
Celia started from the beginning, her face easing as she went back in time. "In the beginning, we had nothing. But despite our poverty and hard times, he seemed happy, happy to be with me. He made me feel as though I was the only person in the world." With the memories flooding her mind, Celia's words fell from her mouth like water through a broken dam.
"He did odd jobs for a man named Grinnell. The old man took a liking to him, admired his determination. Grinnell had no sons and financed Jared's education. When he died, he left Jared part of the business. Jared brought Kevin in as an equal partner. Jared had the business, but Kevin had a business degree. They supported each other's success. Often they stayed in the office for days without setting foot at home. I hardly saw either of them. It was a lonely time for me, but I had my mother and she helped me through it."
Celia stopped crying and searched her purse for a handkerchief. Clark handed her his. She thanked him with a polite nod. "When we had a bit of change, Jared bought me a stationary store. It wasn't much, but I was content. I began to put my energies into building my business.
"That was when everything began to fall apart. Jared began to feel as though I was neglecting my duties as his wife. No longer at his side at every one of his dreadful business dinners. No longer doting on his every word. We began to fight. Not physically, although he had raised his hand a few times. I do not know what stopped him from striking me, but I sensed that whatever it was, it was quickly wearing thin.
"He insisted I sell my store. My suppliers suddenly bowed out, leaving me nothing. I always believed that Jared was behind it, although I never confronted him with the suspicion. In the end, I had no choice but to sell."
She paused, looking into Lois's face. "Then came Ka." Celia's face changed. A smile crossed her features, but sadness still plagued her eyes. "When Ka was born, Jared was home at night and ready to change diapers. He even seemed to warm to me again. But only for a little while." Her face fell once more.
"He became obsessed with Ka. And I seemed to only get in the way. He hired nannies, telling them that their decisions superseded my own. The rift between us was alive and well. Ka would go to bed and we would scream in harsh whispers until the wee hours of the morning. Everything he wanted, I thought was wrong. Everything I wanted, he chided as ridiculous. Eventually, I told him I wanted a divorce. He agreed, but said that I would not get custody of Ka."
A mock laugh escaped her lips at the memory. "He was right." She took a deep breath, willing herself to finish her woeful tale. "Before I could get the divorce papers drawn up, I was hauled into a rubber room."
"What do you mean 'hauled'?" Clark knew it was a moot point, but he felt the need to ask.
Celia looked into his eyes. "You can't imagine, Mr. Kent, what it is like to be pulled from your bed in the middle of the night, gagged and bound, with nothing but your bed clothes. I remember standing in the rain, praying that I wasn't going to die. I had a little girl to think about. I needed to be there for her. I didn't know…" Celia's voice trailed off.
"Celia?" Lois whispered.
Celia looked to the children in the wading pool. She took another deep breath. "I didn't know that Jared was well-connected enough, or that much of a devil to put me away," she paused, allowing the information to sink into her audience. "He told Kevin and my mother that I had just left. But, of course, they knew I would not leave Ka. Kevin found me and, after calling in some of his own favors, I was released."
"Without a home," Clark supplied. His body grew tense, and he looked beyond the bent woman into the distance. Lois recognized his gaze. He looked at her, communicating without words, his need to leave. "Ahh, Lois…"
Lois supplied his alibi. "Your beeper, Clark? You go ahead and find a phone." She turned her attention back to Celia. She sighed. "But without your daughter."
"The custody trial lasted less than an hour. The judge said that in light of my 'unstable mental state' and my lack of revenue that Mr. Ali was the most fit parent. He was awarded sole custody."
"Did you have visitation rights?"
"Yes, I could visit Ka, but never without one of Jared's goons. But, a few days ago, something went wrong. They never showed at my apartment. My mother called and asked about Kevin. She said that Ka had returned hours ago."
Celia sat quietly, rocking back and forth, unable to meet Lois's eyes. "What do you want us to do, Ms. Ali?" Lois repeated her earlier question.
"I want you to put the story out. Reveal Jared for who he is. Get me my baby back."
This was no easy task that Celia Ali was asking. Lois felt she should make the effort, though. Lane and Kent, ace investigative team, would have to try to tie Ali to the murder. If not for the story's own sake, then for Ka.
"We will try," Lois promised against her better judgment.
"Thank you. I know that you will." Celia stood up. "I must go. I will be in touch." As quickly as she had appeared, she was gone into the shadows.
Lois fell into a fitful sleep, visions of Ka filling her dreams.
"Lois," Ka whispered, "Lois." Lois searched the darkness for the child. She could not see her. She felt hands wrap around her shoulders. She still could not see Ka, but she could definitely feel her. The little girl shook Lois with the force of a man. Lois jerked, falling off the cushioned couch.
"Lois," Clark said a bit louder, catching her in his arms. "Lois, wake up." With a start, Lois opened her eyes, disoriented. "Lois, are you all right?" Clark placed her back on the sofa, sitting her upright.
"I'm fine," she reassured him, regaining her senses, "I just was having a bad dream."
"About the Ali story?"
She nodded, pulling her feet underneath her body. "It was just such a sad story. I know families break apart…" Lois lowered her eyes as the thought of her own childhood entered her mind. "…but to become so vindictive and maniacal… That poor little girl. I wish there was something we could do. Something besides the story."
"Well, we can't even do the story if we don't get some proof of Ali's connection to the murder."
Lois sat quietly, thinking of an approach. How were they going to flush Ali out? A printed word without solid evidence would have their tails in a wringer. Ali would surely sue the Daily Planet.
Clark could see the wheels turning in his lady's head. He brought an armload of bamboo steam baskets from the kitchen. "While you think, have some Moo Shu Pork. I had a flood near China to take care of, and got some dinner on the way back." He carried the containers to the coffee table with chopsticks and plates.
"Was anyone hurt?" She tried to always ask about Superman's deeds, knowing Clark would not otherwise discuss them. Clark was very private with his alter ego's escapades and the ensuing emotions. He tried very hard to leave the Man of Steel at the window and not allow his work to interfere with their personal lives. A losing battle, in both their opinions.
He sat down next to her, opening a pancake onto his plate. "Everyone managed to get clear of the waters." Lois nodded, thankful that he was emotionally unscathed, and clicked on the television with the remote control.
Clark eyed his partner. She sat stubbornly focused on the commercials. Clearly, she was still bothered by her dream. He decided not to push. He would wait until she was ready to talk.
They sat eating, watching sit-coms in silence. After finishing the last pancake, Clark changed his position. Supported by the arm of the couch, he wiggled one leg behind Lois's back, inviting her to lay against his chest.
Without a word, she crawled up against his well-defined torso searching for familiar comfort. Clark rested his head atop hers and lightly stroked the curve of her spine. The canned laughter emitted from the TV spawned a few chuckles from each, allowing them to wash away stresses of the day. Soon, the couple's breathing became even and in sync, slipping them into slumber.
Startled by the obscenely loud ring of the phone, Clark stirred. The National Anthem bleared from the television, a proud flag of stars and stripes whipping in the wind behind a gallant bald eagle — the end of the day's broadcast.
'Is it *that* late?' Clark wondered. He rubbed his eyes and strained to see Lois's kitchen clock, careful not to disturb her serene figure.
3:49 in the morning, the hands on the kitchen clock indicated. Who on God's green Earth was calling at this hour? A flood of possibilities ran through Clark's mind. Jimmy? It had to be Jimmy. He was the only one they knew who had the audacity to call at this time of morning. Or maybe it was his parents. They would have called his place and when they got no answer, called Lois.
If that was the case, it was an emergency. Taut with worry, he fumbled for the receiver. "Hello?" he croaked.
"Mr. Kent? Is Ms. Lane there?"
Clark could not place the velvet voice. It was familiar, but no face came to mind. "She is sleeping. Who is this?"
"Celia Ali. We spoke this afternoon."
"Is this an emergency, Ms. Ali?"
"I suppose it is early. This can wait…" The soft voice trailed off.
"How about we meet you? Nine at the coffee shop on Westminster Avenue?" Clark suggested, still rubbing his eyes.
"That is only a few hours off," she muttered to herself. In the phone, she answered, "That would be good. Nine."
Clark pushed the receiver back into its cradle, wondering if he had done the right thing. Lois would have wanted to take the call. Clark smoothed her chestnut locks. No, she needed to rest. Sleep would give her a chance to escape whatever was bothering her.
Clark slid his body out from under hers, reluctant to leave her side. He carefully carried Lois's limp form to the bed, covering her with an afghan. He gazed into her impish face, brushed her bangs aside and kissed her forehead.
Five minutes later, he stretched out in his own bed. Holding his pillow, Clark wished for Lois's warmth beside him. 'Soon', he thought, drifting back to sleep.
Ka watched the shadows of trees outside dance across Nana's bedroom walls. She lay in silent fear, tears streaming down her face. She had climbed under her grandmother's blankets after waking from the cold sweat of a bad dream. Her Nana was soft and warm, but she was little comfort. Ka could still see the nightmarish images when she closed her eyes.
She was cold in the night air, having lost her jacket somewhere in the scramble to the car. She had thought Uncle Kevin had picked it up, but she had not seen it in the car when he got in. The car had screeched as he peeled out of the drive, causing her to lurch into the glove compartment.
"Ka, put your belt on, honey." Her uncle's voice was strained, but he was trying to make an effort to be calm.
Twisting on her knees to reach the chest belt, she could see the dancing headlights of another car behind them. She struggled with her belt, finally managing to get it to click shut.
Through the city, they had whirled, catching curbs and roaring through the streets. Ka was scared. She did not know what was going on. Where were they going? She looked to her uncle's face. He was focused on the road, his eyes wide and crazy.
When the car finally slowed, there were no lights. The sound of crickets echoed in the night. Kevin smiled down on her, seemingly more calm. Ka was not reassured. "Now, we'll just wait here, honey. Then we will go see your mommy. Soon, you will be with your mommy."
He leaned down and kissed her. Maybe if he hadn't leaned down, he would have noticed the car beside them or the man reaching into their car. But as it was, Uncle Kevin hadn't. Ka could only stare in horror as the door flew open and large arms grabbed her uncle.
Ka cried as Uncle Kevin pulled on her arm, trying to stay in the car. The bracelet he'd bought her chafed her skin. She whimpered from the pain. It only lasted a few seconds, though. Soon he lost his grip and yanked the bracelet from her wrist.
She could not see over the dashboard, but she *had* seen the face of the man who'd snatched Uncle Kevin. "Daddy!" she'd cried.
Unable to snake herself out of the belt, she could hear the pounding of flesh and anguished cries.
What seemed like forever passed before her father slid into the seat next to her. He was bruised, bloodied and smelled of sweat and dirt. He smiled down on her, but she was more scared now then she had been before.
Ka's father turned the key in the ignition and began to drive down the road. The jarring lift of the car and quick fall made her begin to whimper. It felt as though they had ran too fast over a speed bump. She felt sick to her stomach. Her thoughts were jumbled with fear, but one resounding thought echoed in her head. Where was Uncle Kevin?
Ka twisted under her belt to see if he was behind with the other car. She could see something in the road under bright headlights. A man lifted a mass and hauled it into the ditch beside the road. Satisfied, the man got back into the car and followed.
Ka looked up into her father's face. He scowled and cursed as he turned back into the city. Tears ran down her face, the sinking feeling that she was in trouble shook her body.
Ka had lain under her Nana's arm all night, not once losing the sight of her Uncle's eyes. She could also hear the sound of her father walking down the hall. He was talking to someone on the phone. Ka slipped out of bed and padded after her father to his study.
"'Get rid of the body' did not mean leave him there in a ditch. I hope you don't think I am going to pay you for this." His voice rose as he walked around the room, searching for something.
"No. Your services will no longer be necessary." He opened a drawer and found what he was looking for. He sat in a large leather chair, leaning back more relaxed. "No, that will not be necessary. My child and I are taking a trip."
Ka's ears perked up at the talk of a trip.
She would have to ask Nana to help her pack her bags. She liked to take trips and did not want to leave anything. Nana would help her.
Lois's leg twitched nervously, waiting for Celia Ali. She was anxious to hear what the woman had to say. What was so important that she had called in the middle of the night? Lois had been a tad perturbed when Clark had called, relaying the message to her. She wished she had spoken to Celia herself, but was thankful for the chance to rest a bit more.
Lois sipped her coffee and munched on a bagel, while Clark had ordered scrambled eggs and bacon. "I'm glad they have a breakfast menu," he smiled.
"I think that waitress made that especially for you." Lois gestured towards a pixie blonde filling water glasses.
"Why would you say that?"
"Because I do not see, anywhere on this menu, 'bacon' or 'eggs'. I see 'bagel', 'muffin', 'croissant' — but no 'bacon' and no 'eggs'."
Lois handed the menu to Clark. He blushed, seeing she was right. "Well, she offered…" He shrugged his shoulders and shoveled a fork full of eggs into his mouth. "I didn't know."
"I know. You can't help it if women find you irresistible." Lois laughed at Clark's shamed expression.
"Ms. Lane. Mr. Kent." Lois jumped, not having seen or heard Celia Ali approach. 'She moves like a cat,' Lois thought. Taking another sip of coffee, Lois lifted an eyebrow in surprise at Celia's appearance.
In less than twenty-four hours, Celia Ali's appearance had changed drastically. Her shoulders were no longer slumped. Her face was no longer aged with dark circles or shadows. It was as if she had shed her old skin. Celia stood before the reporting team, statuesque, with a long slender build and height that neither she nor Clark had noticed the day before. Her hair, no longer wrapped in a sloppy ponytail, flowed shiny down her back. She wore no make-up, but did not need it. All of her features were sharpened from the day before, down to the fiery onyx gleam in her eyes.
Lois looked at Clark; a pang of jealousy tweaked her side. She could see his admiration, if not fascination, with Celia's renewed beauty.
"Mrs. Ali, please sit down." Clark stood out of old-fashioned courtesy, pulling the chair out for the woman.
"Celia, Mr. Kent. I prefer Celia," she reminded him, sitting in the chair between Clark and Lois. "I talked to my mother. That is the reason I called so extremely early." She sat tall in her chair, strumming her long fingers on the table in a slow rhythmic tempo. "She tells me Jared is making plans to leave."
"Metropolis?" Lois asked.
Unlike the day before, there was no break in Celia's voice. It flowed like an electrical current, strong and untouchable.
A digital bell rang, annoyingly becoming louder with each passing sound. Clark reached for his hip, hurriedly, to check his pager. "Its Jimmy. I'll be right back." He quickly excused himself from the table, headed in the direction of the phone bay.
Lois and Celia sat in silence, waiting for his return. "Would you like some coffee?" Lois offered, becoming antsy with anticipation. What did this woman in her mysterious transformation want to tell her and Clark. She wished he would hurry back.
"Tea would be nice."
Lois summoned the pixie blonde to their table. After ordering, the two women watched the world pass by the storefront window. People on their cellphones sat in their cars, stopped at the traffic light. Buses chugged to a halt, sighing as they dropped off one or two people and picked up three or four more. Horns honked in irritation far in the distance, and pedestrians of all walks of life passed before them on their way to work and school.
The women sat that way for a long moment, both contemplating the show in front of them. Finally, Celia spoke. "Do you love him? Mr. Kent?"
Lois furrowed her brow in surprise. She was not sure she was willing to answer so personal a question. But it did not matter; Celia did not wait for a reply. "One day, the two of you may have a child. Imagine his child, Ms. Lane. *Your* child."
Lois's mind immediately flashed to her daydream at the park. A fuzzy warmth filled her body with the revisited image of her son.
"Imagine never seeing that child again. Imagine your child at the mercy of a murderer."
The playful background of the park pool faded in Lois's dream, replaced by Lex Luthor in his study with her son, *Clark's* son, on his lap. Stark anxiety pulsed along her spine with the clarity of the thought.
Lois's coffee cup began to rattle against the saucer. Realizing that it was her own shaky hand that betrayed her feelings, she quickly put her hands in her lap.
"I love my daughter, Ms. Lane."
Before Lois could respond, both Clark and the waitress returned. Celia thanked the waitress, waiting until she was out of earshot, before resuming her conversation.
"Jared is arranging a flight to Spain." No sign of emotion was evident on Celia's face, her tone matter-of-fact. "There is no extradition treaty with the United States, so he would get away scot-free." She sipped her tea, while Lois and Clark absorbed the information.
"He may get away with murder," she hissed, "but not my daughter." Her steely gaze met Clark's, then Lois's tense face. "Tonight, I am going to get her back." The fire that had burned so bright before her troubles was now searing hot. "I need your help."
"Ms. Al— uh, Celia," Clark began. He understood what the woman was asking, but the idea was ridiculous. He needed to make sure he was not mistaking her request. He feigned confusion. "I am not sure we understand. What do you mean by 'our help'?" he asked.
"To kidnap my daughter." The words echoed in both Lois's and Clark's heads.
Clark felt sick to his stomach, a physical anomaly to which he was unaccustomed. He looked to Lois, who focused steadily on the road. She had hardly spoken three sentences since leaving the cafe.
Clark powered down his newly repaired window. Maybe the early morning breeze would carry away his nausea. He breathed deeply, filling his lungs with the crisp air. Slowly, his ailment subsided. He glanced again at Lois, She was oblivious to him, lost in thought.
"Um… hmmm, yeah, Clark?" she asked. A bemused look was settled onto her face. Clark, unsure of how to gauge her behavior, decided not to ask her thoughts about Celia Ali's request. He needed time to sort his own thoughts on the subject.
"It was Jimmy who paged me. He said that Dr. Klein had called, so maybe we should head to STAR Labs instead of the Planet."
"All right." Clark waited for her to begin a conversation. Lois sat in silence, seemingly transfixed by the road. She exited the freeway into the Medical District.
The reporting duo walked quietly into STAR Labs. They stepped onto the elevator and silently rode to the fourth floor where Dr. Klein's laboratory was located.
Clark shoved his hands in his trouser pockets, oppressed by the silence. He wondered what she was thinking. This complete lack of communication was unnerving. The woman he had secretly thought of as a babbling brook was now still waters. Where was the waterfall?
Dr. Klein sat hunched in his customary position over his microscope. He looked up at the sound of Clark tapping on the open door. "Lois, Clark, good of you to come. I've done some tests on that bracelet. I tested the metal and the dirt embedded in it, but nothing. All tests were negative. There was no blood of any kind."
The reporter duo looked disappointed. Both had secretly hoped that the bracelet would connect Ali to the scene.
"It did, however, have an inscription on the inside." Dr. Klein moved from his stool to a cluttered table outside his adjoining office. He picked up the baggie which contained the bracelet.
"Well, it wasn't a phrase or any such, but there were two letters etched on the back."
"K-A," Lois guessed, speaking for the first time since the car.
"Well, yes." Dr. Klein confirmed, a bit surprised. "Is that significant in any way?"
"Maybe, Dr. Klein," Clark replied. "Thank you."
"For the two of you, I am glad to help." Both smiled their gratitude.
Clark's pager buzzed. He had switched it to 'silent mode' at the cafe, but it could still be heard against his hip. "Aren't you popular today?" Lois teased, returning to her normal self. "Where's your phone?"
"The battery was low."
Clark unhooked the beeper from his belt. "It's Jimmy. Dr. Klein, may I use your phone?"
"Sure, my boy. There's one in my office, if you would like some privacy."
Clark excused himself for the second time that morning.
"Dr. Klein, was there anything — anything at all — unusual about the bracelet?"
Dr. Klein slowly shook his head. "Nothing I could see."
Lois sulked in defeat. She hated it when leads went cold. She pushed her tongue inside her cheek, trying to think of a new lead. Ali refused to see them. The bracelet was nil, but Celia… Celia Ali had put a trust in her and Clark. In her as a potential mother and in Clark as her partner. She had asked them to help get her child back. With legal avenues all being dead ends, Celia was desperate. She had exhausted all other possibilities and was now left with one last option: Celia had to abduct her daughter.
Lois had not known what to say. Clark had choked on his orange juice, although she suspected it was more for show than because he was stunned. As Superman, he had seen and heard much worse. As reporters, they both had seen and heard worse. But it was the feeling behind what Celia had said. The despair.
Seeing Clark's reaction, Celia has asked them to think about it. She would expect a call, one way or the other, by six that evening.
Lois wanted to do the right thing — the ever-elusive right thing. It seemed as though the answer should be obvious. She was sure that for Clark, the answer was clearly 'no'. She could hear his words now — they could not be a party to kidnapping, no matter how merciful the deed.
It wasn't so simple in Lois's eyes. Something in the child's eyes, something in her mother' voice, and maybe something inside the little girl lost within herself, was telling her to say yes.
Thinking of Ka, she imagined the child coming under constant scrutiny, feeling alone, wondering what she had done to make her daddy and mommy so mad at the world, to make her mommy leave.
Lois remember her own feeling of failure when her father left. She remember never being good enough in his eyes, and thus never good enough in her own. 'That's good, cupcake. But there is always room for improvement.' Improvement?!? On a score of 98? Lois tensed at the memory.
For whatever reason, Lois saw herself in Ka's face, and she feared for her as if she was her own child. She needed to help this little girl.
"Lois," Clark interrupted her thoughts, "that was Jimmy. He says Jared Ali wants to meet with us at the A.M. complex in about an hour. Are you up for it?" He raised his eyebrows in question.
"Do you have to ask?" Lois gave a satisfied grin. Yes! The trail was hot again. "What are you waiting for?" she teased, readjusting her satchel on her shoulder and walking determinedly through the door. Clark thanked Dr. Klein and hurried to match his partner's stride.
"Okay, if the bracelet isn't going to lead to anything with forensics, maybe it will in an interview."
"So, we're going to let Jared know we have the bracelet?" Clark asked, pushing the elevator button.
"If he knows we have the bracelet…" Lois bit her lip in thought. "…he may think we have evidence that ties him to the murder."
Clark nodded his approval, his face distorted with another thought. "Why would Ali want to meet with us in the first place, Lois? That woman, yesterday, was emphatic about us not seeing him."
"Maybe he knows."
"Knows Celia's plan to get Ka back."
"And, you think, he wants to see us because..?" Clark asked.
Lois stepped off the elevator, rattling her keys. "Because he wants to interrogate us about Celia. He wants us to tell him what we know. This is not an appointment for us to interview him. This is *his* chance to interview *us*."
Clark shook his head. Lois was always so suspicious. "Where did you come up with this scenario?" he chuckled.
"Clark…" She cut an indignant look in his direction. "I want this story and, as I see it, this game that Celia and Jared are playing for Ka is the way to get it. If we are going to be the ones to get it, we have to play by their rules."
Clark did not like this analogy. The thought of being someone's puppet was not comforting, particularly to the Man of Steel. He knew that Lois was also not one for being used. If she had conceded to losing a bit of control in the situation, he would have to support her. They were partners, after all.
"Like pawns on a chess board."
"Exactly." Lois turned the car in the direction of the waterfront.
A recently refurbished area, the Metropolis waterfront was a bustling business and leisure community. Tall buildings shadowed the streets, with furiously busy worker drones inside. Closest to the water, botanical gardens flourished, separating the grey and brown of business attire from the bright rainbow of sporting gear on the beach and in the park.
Lois and Clark pulled into the Ali-Macmaster complex. Recently built, the marble pillars and tinted windows gleamed in the sunshine. Like his home, Jared Ali had created another example of impressive surroundings. Several small fountains bubbled along the circular drive. A mammoth granite statue stood on the front lawn.
Clark contemplated the statue for a moment. He could not figure out what it was supposed to be. He never did understand modern art. His mother had dabbled in it some, but it was beyond his imagination. Still, he admired the structure, deciding the artist must have an interesting perspective on life.
Within minutes of entering the building, the couple walked back out. The secretary at the front desk had informed them that they were to go to the Troy Marina, located a few blocks down. Mr. Ali was entertaining this afternoon on his cabin cruiser and had gone to oversee the caterers.
The latest edition to the waterfront area, Troy Marina, was Metropolis's hot spot for up-and-coming business executives. Even those entrepreneurs who had never floated more than a rubber duck in the bathtub owned some type of sailboat.
Lois suspected that Jared's own boat was more for show than use. Why else would he be having them meet him there, but to show them what type of man they were dealing with? Rich.
Clark and Lois observed the docks, filled with expensive yachts, cabin cruisers, smaller sailing boats and put-puts. The area was still under construction, with heavy machinery and scaffolds crowding the small yard near the boathouse. Lois spied the boat house and the overhead lighting posts, all equipped with surveillance equipment. 'Renting a space must boggle the checkbook,' she thought, heading down the pier.
"The Sultan" was precisely where the secretary had directed them, its name embossed on the hull of an impressive craft.
"Aren't *we* full of ourselves?" Lois asked sarcastically, noting the name. She stepped up to the ladder. Clark smiled his agreement. "Mr. Ali?" she yelled to the boat. "Mr. Ali?"
A dark head peered over the side. With the sun beaming into their eyes, neither Lois or Clark were able to make out the features of the man above them.
"Ms. Lane and Mr. Kent, I presume?" The two nodded. "Come on up."
Lois was not sure what she had expected when she boarded the boat, but this was not it. Jared Ali, in a white polo and matching pants, stood with a welcoming smile. He held out his chocolate-colored hands for a firm handshake with each of the reporters. Despite herself, Lois smiled in return.
"Please, let us talk down below."
The three people descended into the cabin. It was roomier than Lois or Clark had suspected. A cellophane-covered tray of meats and cheeses were on a table, along with a variety of other foods and drink, beside a lounge chair and couch. Ali motioned for them to have a seat. "I understand that the two of you wanted to talk to me about my partner, Kevin Macmaster."
"Yes, we attempted to approach your home yesterday, but were told you had no comment."
Jared looked apologetically to them. "Yes, that would be my mother-in-law who answered the door. Kevin's mother. She was so shook up by the news of his death. You see, we thought he was in the Cayman Islands. She took it very hard. But I would be happy to answer any questions you might have. Nana — that is what my daughter calls her — did not want a spectacle to be made of his death. I am sorry if she treated you rudely."
Lois and Clark looked at each other.
"Mr. Ali, why did you think Mr. Macmaster was in the Cayman Islands?" Lois started.
"He was tying up some issues we had with a client."
"A client?" Clark questioned.
"Yes, but if you do not mind, I'd rather not mention any names. That would be bad business, associating a client with this tragedy in any way."
One of the caterers stepped into the cabin. "Mr. Ali, may I speak with you for a moment, sir?"
Jared frowned at the young man standing before him. "I am busy right now. Can this wait?"
"No, sir. We are packing up, and we have some unfinished business to discuss."
Jared smiled at his guests. "Excuse me, please." The two men walked up to the deck. Lois hurried to the stairs.
"Lo-is," Clark cautioned.
"Clark, shush. I'm trying to hear. Can *you* hear?"
"Hear what? Catering plans?"
"Clark! The man looked a bit familiar. Did he look familiar to you?"
"Who?" Lois repeated in disgust. "The caterer! Do I have to do *all* the reporting by myself? Try to hear what they are saying?"
"Oh, all right." Clark tuned his super-hearing into the conversation above them.
"Clark, what are they saying? Are they talking about Ka? Clark, answer me!"
Clark winced in pain. "Lois, I'm trying to listen. When you are talking and standing so close, it's like someone is stabbing a knife into my head."
"Oh, sorry. I won't talk any more."
"Well, whatever they were saying, they're done now. I didn't catch anything."
Lois slid back into her seat as Jared appeared. "Sorry about that. Good customer service is so rare in this day and age." Ali sat back in his seat. "Where were we?"
"When did you expect Mr. Macmaster back?"
"Oh, well, we had expected him that day, but he had called and said he'd be back in a few days. Wanted to take a few days rest and relaxation. You know how it is?"
The man smiled, his dark eyes crinkling. Lois could see how Celia had fallen for Ali. He was a sight for sore eyes. She glanced at Clark. Of course, she had yet to see someone as attractive as her partner.
Clark mocked a laugh. "Yes, we put in our share of long hours, ourselves."
"I bet you do. Can I get you a drink?"
"No, we're fine. Can you tell us, did Mr. Macmaster have any enemies?"
"Well, I wouldn't think so, but today, anyone can be mad at you. People don't value life any more." Ali sat back in his seat. "Today's world… People are liable to do anything, don't you think? Oh, but I guess you see it every day."
"Yes, well, we have seen our share of injustice," Lois agreed.
"Makes me scared to raise my daughter. I stay up nights, wondering if she'll always be safe," Ali grimaced. His once-handsome face transformed into dark stone. His eyes glazed over as if lost to a memory. "I would want to kill anyone who hurt my little girl."
The words echoed in the silence that followed. Neither Lois nor Clark responded to the statement.
"But, I digress — you want to know about Kevin. He was my partner. He was my family. I hope that the people who did this will be strung up for their crime. It doesn't make any sense."
Lois saw her chance. Hopefully, the next tidbit of information would further crack Ali's facade. She baited her hook. "Mr. Ali, your daughter's bracelet was found near the body."
Jared raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Her bracelet?"
"Yes, a small silver bracelet with her name inscribed." 'Take the bait,' she urged.
He nodded. "Yes, I know what you are talking about. Kevin gave it to Ka last Christmas, I think it was. I don't know why Kevin would have had it."
"Is it possible that Ka was with Mr. Macmaster?"
"No. Ka has been at home with me or her grandmother."
"Are you sure of that?"
"Ms. Lane, I realize you are looking for answers, but I do not have them."
Lois held back a growl of frustration.
For the next thirty minutes, the journalists threw questions and Ali answered, not mentioning his daughter again. The mask of 'concerned friend' remained in perfect place for the rest of the interview.
"He's lying," Lois said, stepping back onto the pier.
Despite Ali's easy-going manner and willingness to answer their questions, Lois did not feel he had actually told them anything. Ali had expertly fielded each and every question. He had a clever quip, an empathetic remark or an endless tale about his adventures during flying lessons that consistently steered Lois and Clark from the subject of Kevin Macmaster. She had shot hard-hitting inquiries in Ali's direction, only to have her efforts bested with tales. In the end, Clark seemed genuinely charmed. He had finished the interview with a tete-a-tete about the Chicago Bulls and Metro Gladiators.
Lois huffily snapped her pencil in half. Her frustration was apparent to any onlookers. Fortunately, everyone was hustling to meet the evening edition's deadline. Clark was either a mindless dolt or Jared Ali could charm a rattlesnake; Lois chose the latter. Still, Clark had the annoying habit of looking for the good in every person. She wondered if that was a Kryptonian trait or a Kansan one. Either way, she would forgive him for allowing Ali to slip through their journalistic fingers. At least for the moment.
Lois looked across the aisle. Clark stared intently at his monitor, his fingers a blur to the human eye, with small curls of smoke rising from his keyboard.
The two of them had agreed after the failed interview that, in order to connect Ali to any wrong-doing, they would have to sift through his past with a fine-tooth comb. Unfortunately, Ali seemed to be squeaky clean. He had a four-star credit rating, both personal and business. He had paid off all of his school and car loans. He did not have a rap sheet, not even a parking ticket. Ali's divorce from Celia, in the eyes of the law, was neat and tidy. And he gave to several charities.
The man seemed the golden child that Lex Luthor had once pretended to be, which made Lois's insides wrench. The similarities between the two men's personas only lent credence to Celia's accusations. Lois was more determined than ever to rescue Ka from Jared.
After three hours of tapping into every database available to the Planet, Lois was ready to head home. Through an unspoken agreement, neither she nor Clark had mentioned Celia's request; but the day was coming to a close and Celia was waiting for an answer.
"Clark, I'm going to the bathroom, but then I'll be ready."
Clark knew without any surrounding context, what Lois was ready to do. She was ready to discuss Celia Ali. He looked up from his terminal, suddenly weary.
He could see that Lois was somehow emotionally attached to this story — a far cry from her attitude during the Beckwith/Mentamide Five story during the reign of the Smart Kids. And, if that was the case, she would want to do this— the kidnapping, regardless of its ramifications.
Hadn't Lois only the night before said she wished they could do more than write a story? With what they had come up with today, there was little more than the original police report to print. It was becoming clear that this story would result in a mystery that would remain unsolved, and a little girl would unjustly grow up without her mother.
Clark opened his bottom drawer, pulling out the small black box that had dwelled there for the past few weeks. He opened it and eyed the ring.
"Penny for your thoughts, CK," Jimmy asked, walking by.
"When do you think the time might be right, Jimbo?"
Jimmy thoughtfully looked at the diamond. No doubt several of CK's paychecks were represented in that small band of gold with its precious stone. "You'll know when it is, CK."
"I hope you're right, Jimmy." Clark quickly put the ring back as Lois approached. He picked up his jacket and followed his 'little tornado' out of the Planet.
"Lois, we can *not* get involved." Clark closed Lois's door behind him. He had agonized over this inevitable argument the entire ride from the Planet. Like Lois, he was touched by Celia Ali's story of her daughter. He was outraged by Jared Ali's cruelty. He wanted to do something. And with Superman's power, he knew that he could. But he was torn. This was not as if he'd be swiping a vial from a laboratory.
He could take advantage of a privileged interview situation to grab incriminating evidence from an unsuspecting subject, but to take a child from her custodial guardian? He would be taking the law completely into his own hands. No, he would be *disregarding* the law. The courts had seen this case and had ruled in Ali's favor.
"Clark, this woman needs our help. How can you not get involved?" Lois dropped her satchel onto the couch, kicked off her shoes and padded to her aquarium. She dropped a few flakes of food into the water, watching her one fiery red Chinese Fighting fish chomp at the bait. 'Why couldn't Ali have bitten at her bait like that?' she thought wryly.
"Lois, this woman is planning to commit a felony."
"Clark, we can't let…" She turned to face her confrere. He stood, his arms akimbo. She could see how strongly he disapproved of the situation. But couldn't he see that she needed to help? With all of the crime the two of them had seen and reported over the years, they had never helped break the law. Well, not on purpose, anyway. But this was not a crime of greed, it was a crime of compassion. Clark *had* to feel that way as well. And if he didn't, well, then, she was as adamant as he. They were going to help rescue Ka from Ali. Even if it meant fighting tooth and nail with her future husband— hopefully, her future husband.
"We *can't* let Ali take her. If they leave the country, Celia will never see her again. There is no justice in this world. Just no justice. Who knows what will happen to Ka?" Clark could almost see her stepping up on her soap box.
He steadily moved towards his partner, best friend and lover, snaring her small frame between him and the aquarium. He breathed deeply, preparing for the battle that lie ahead.
"Lois, you will go to prison. Prison, Lois. Do you understand what that means? No Planet. No Fudge Castle. No future." Clark readjusted his glasses. Maybe if he appealed to her sense of self, her dreams, their future.
"Clark, you are over-reacting," she said, waving her hand in the air, avoiding his gaze.
"No, Lois, I am not. If you are lucky, you— I— *we* will go to jail."
"We won't get caught," she chortled, pushing past him.
"Why? Because Superman is there?" Clark asked sardonically. He raked his hands through his hair. What was wrong with this woman? Did she not understand the danger involved? No, she understood. She did not *care*.
"You. Celia. Ka. He could kill you." The thought strangled the words in his voice. Crazy people had been in her life as long as he had known the 'hard-bitten reporter', and she always seemed to stand between them and fortune. She was always on the cusp of fate, dangling from God's will.
"Which is why we have to help them. Don't you see that, Clark? We are that little girl's only chance to be with her mother again," Lois pleaded.
Yes, he saw that. Jared Ali was a smooth operator. The man would find a way to justify any action he saw fit. And, after sizing him up in the interview, Clark could see that Ali would most likely walk away from his brother-in-law's death with Ka securely beside him. But Clark had to believe that there was another way. A way that did not put Lois in harm's way. A way that did not force Superman to spurn the justice system that he had vowed to uphold.
Lois laid her hand on his chest. "Clark", she purred softly, "We can not let this happen."
Clark looked in disbelief at her hand on his chest. She was going to try to manipulate him with her feminine charms. Was she absolutely crazy? Did she think so little of his principles? Could she believe that his physical desire for her was more powerful than his ethics? Suddenly, her touch no longer felt like a caress, but an anvil. "Don't." Clark recoiled.
"What?" Clark had pulled away from her. That alone had chilled her to the bone. She never believed he would willingly avoid her touch. He was serious about not helping Celia Ali, but she was just as serious to the contrary.
"Lois, he is her father," Clark reasoned, not convinced of his own words.
"*She* is her *mother*," she shot back.
"He has custody."
"And that means what, Clark? Is that supposed to make him right? Is what he did to Celia Ali right?"
Lois could not believe what she was hearing. If there was anyone who should recognize injustice, it should be him. Was Clark so taken in by the powers that be that he did not understand the rules needed to be bent on occasion? Of course, he did. They had been partners for too long for him not to see the need every now and then. So why was he being so unrelenting now?
"Superman has to believe in the justice system."
Lois rolled her eyes, her arms flailing in frustration. "Then leave Superman at home."
"Lo-is…" Clark started, ready to lecture about good overcoming evil, but Lois was not finished.
"Justice does not always mean the justice system, Clark. I want to believe in it, too. That's the reason why I have the job that I have, but can't you see? This is *not* justice." Pleading for understanding, she met his eyes.
Clark was confused. He wanted to help both the family and this woman who stood before him, but Lois's inability to take his feelings into consideration ate at him. What did she want from him?
"So what, Lois? What am I supposed to do? Become a renegade vigilante? Legal system be damned?" His voice trembled with rage. It was hard enough living the life of the good soldier. She was his partner, his friend, his lover. How could she not see that he did not have a choice? He had to live up to the world's expectations. He had to be the superhero.
"What? Are you blind? Or are you a martyr?" she spat viscously.
Clark moved towards the kitchen, wanting to get away from Lois's biting words. He needed a drink. Some water… something to relieve the choking bile in his throat.
"The system is already damned. How else would a megalomaniacal murderer get custody of a child?" A man who had literally tried to make his wife crazy held a child's life in his hands. And Clark wanted to argue the merits of the law? This was ridiculous. She thought she knew Clark better than this. She did not realize he was so naive.
Lois pressed down onto the counter, leaning over to stare Clark in the eye. "I'll tell you how," she hissed. "Money. The bottom line. The greedy little monster. Jared Ali has it. The lawyers and the judges want it. So Jared gets what he wants. And through the system…" She paused. "…I suppose he gets Superman, too."
The glass in Clark's hand shattered. Shards sprayed over the counter. Reflexively, Lois jumped back. She stood stunned.
Clark quickly cleaned the mess, cursing himself for losing control. He stole a glance at Lois. She stood unmoving. Surprised, perhaps, by his display of anger. Clark wanted to scream. He wanted to bang his head on the wall. His body shuddered with the emotion as he walked to the window, leaving Lois standing alone.
The sky was beginning to dim. Soon, the sun would melt into the skyline and he would take patrol over Metropolis. How he wished to do that now. Anything to get away from this unwinnable argument. He needed to clear his head.
'Please,' he silently begged Lois, 'let's not fight any more.'
If telepathy truly existed, this moment was not evidence. Lois spun on her heel, undaunted by the show of Clark's anger. She had hit a nerve.
Perhaps Clark realized that he had unknowingly become a puppet to the criminal element who manipulated the system. The truth of the matter was that Lex often counted on Superman's stoic clutch to the law when implementing a sinister plan. Maybe Clark had unhealed wounds because of this.
"Lois," he interrupted, whispering his words. "Please, I want to help. I *want* to." He looked back towards the purple twilight. "But I can *not* be judge and jury. The law is what keeps me from being a threat to society. I have the power and the strength to will this world to my way, but I can't do that. If I do that, Lois, if I ignore the laws of man, then I am no better than the criminals that I put away. I have to follow the rules. Superman has to follow the rules. He cannot be the final judge."
He looked to her, hoping to see compassion. He saw only determination.
"But you stole from Mazik's Jewelers."
"That was to save lives."
"So is this!" she yelled, flinging her arms in exasperation. Just when she thought he was beginning to understand. Why did he have to be so stubborn?
"Well, Lois Lane can. I am going with or without you… or Superman."
Clark walked steadily towards her. His anger flared again. "No, you are not." As the words tumbled from his mouth, he wished that he could suck them back. He froze, waiting for the earth to shatter around him.
Lois stood, for the second time in as many minutes, thunderstruck. She felt as though Clark had punched her with his super-strength squarely in the chest. How could he say such a thing? Did he think he could control her? Was this a side of him that she had not seen — a shadow of her past betrothed, Lex.
Gathering her senses, Lois stepped deliberately towards him. Clark did not know whether to besiege her with apologies or steel himself for a slap across the face. He knew that he had made a mortal error. Hearing his own words reverberate, he could also hear the sound of Luthor's voice, 'She's just a little too independent. Don't you think? Well, I'll take care of that'.
Seething, Lois glared into his equally dark eyes. She misinterpreted his expression to be rage, when in reality it was fear. "Clark Kent…" She met his stature, tense muscle for tense muscle. "…don't you *ever* believe, not for an inkling of a second that you can tell me anything. You are my partner, possibly my lover, but my life, my life is my own. It belongs to *me*."
'*Possibly*? What was *that* supposed to mean?' Clark snapped to Lois's attention. A war raged inside his gut. Outrage vs. Humility. How could Lois question their love for each other? He had bent over backwards to support her, even when he knew she was wrong. He had been there to catch her when she had fallen, whether it be from her own expectations or from a ten-storey building. Hurt strangled in his chest, making it difficult to breathe. He felt weak.
Memories flooded his mind. Lois being thrown out of windows, her accusations of him being naive, the countless times he demeaned himself to make her feel better, her biting remarks about his law-abiding manner, her tirades, her childish need to get everything her way. Everything always had to be her damned way.
Clark clenched his teeth, a muscle in his jaw flaring with each thought. He bit down harder until it physically hurt *not* to respond to her cutting jibes. "I wouldn't dream of telling you *anything*, Lois," he threw back, tasting bile in his mouth. "Time has shown you to be a model of good decision. Falling out of windows or drowning in a pit of cement — all just hobbies."
Lois rolled her eyes. He would have to bring up the cement. Never mind that she had been trying to avenge his supposed death. "We can't all be invincible like you, Superman. Some of us have to risk our lives for our convictions." 'Point to Lois,' she thought, intent on inflicting a wound to his ego similar to her own.
"Oh, is that what you do? Tell me, Ms. Lane, would you be so quick to stick your neck out if Superman wasn't there?" Clark knew that she would. Lois was immune to her own mortality. But this fight had become 'no holds barred', and he had sometimes wondered if she did not take for granted that he would always be there.
She was right about one thing. He did not fear for his own life. His genealogy afforded him such a luxury. Tormented, Clark stared down at Lois, unable to find any more words.
"Clark," she started in exasperation.
He cut her off. "What am I supposed to say, Lois? What is it that you want me to say? That I will go against everything that I am so you can win?"
"Win?" Lois fell back a step. Is that what this was about now? Winning an argument? The quarrel had digressed to nothing more than an alley fight. He did not understand. She was no longer sure she did, either.
"If that's what you think this is about, Clark? If you honestly think I am only vying to be right, then we have nothing else to say to each other."
A silence that stretched time settled between them. They stood quietly, neither knew what to do and both afraid to move. Searching her pained expression, Clark's anger drained into concern "Lois…" He reached to her. Unwilling to forgive his verbal assault, she stepped beyond his grasp. He sighed, shoulders slumped in defeat. "Lois," he tried again. She stared at his feet, refusing to respond.
"I'm…" His voice faded. He looked beyond her distractedly. His body tensed in a way that was too familiar to Lois. She watched him tilt his head towards a sound that only he and the gods could hear. Someone was hurt. Somewhere, someone was clinging to their life. It did not matter that she, herself, felt that she was clinging to her life as well.
Clark looked down at her, wanting to say something. He did not want to leave with the two of them like this, crushed under the weight of ill-spoken words, but he had to go. He had to be the superhero.
"Go," she whispered, moving to the sofa, turning her back to him.
"I'll be back."
"Don't bother." She took a deep breath. "I'll be gone."
Clark looked upon the small woman who held his heart in his hands. Her head sunken and her shoulders broken. He whispered, almost inaudibly, his voice caught in the back of his throat. He wanted to gather her in his arms and take back the harsh words he'd spoken. Instead, he stepped to the window sill. The curtains stirred and he was gone.
Lois choked back a sob and straightened her shoulders. With the back of her hand, she wiped the moisture from her face, took a deep breath and headed towards her bedroom.
She sighed, opening her closet. "What does one wear for a kidnapping?" She thumbed through the hangers. "Black. Yes, definitely black," she muttered to herself. Frustratingly, her mutterings were not enough to muzzle the voice in her head; Clark's last words before taking flight — 'I love you.'
Superman soared across the city. Destination: Suicide Slum. He hovered above a fire-gutted building, smoldering with smoke To his horror, Clark could hear the panicked cries of trapped children. As he neared, he could see that it was a day-care center. Caretakers and children, along with frantic parents, stood in despair. Some of the parents had attempted to re-enter the building, but police stood guard. Clark scanned the structure. Apparently, most of the building had been cleared. But the fire had started in the central room, blocking off a back section of the center.
Disapproving, Clark could see that the building was not compliant with safety code and had no fire exits outside of the front area. A knot tightened in his stomach as he entered the flames. Human life was so frail and with every rescue, he feared failure. Children in danger was particularly disconcerting.
Clark swallowed back his own dread, busting through bricks and concrete to reach his destination. The heat from the flames was humanly unbearable, but for Superman it was only a bit uncomfortable.
Rushing from one room to another, he carried babies for the ride of their lives to safety, each small victim looking to him with tears in their eyes. His own heart cried out, gazing into their faces.
Moving as fast as he could without vaporizing his charges, Superman flew back and forth from the ambulances to the burning inferno. After what seemed forever, Clark no longer heard another heart beating.
The fire department quickly controlled the fire, but smoke still rolled in thick threatening clouds. Clark took a deep breath, preparing himself for the heart-breaking errand of removing bodies. After searching room after room, he was relieved not to find any. But then he saw into the kitchen, beyond the pantry door.
A body lay cramped into the shelves. A tiny body. He gasped despite himself as he removed the child. As small as a doll, she must have climbed in when the fire first began.
Already worn by his argument with Lois, the corpse drained the last of his emotional reserve. Silent tears flowed down Clark's cheeks as he stepped out of the building, the lifeless doll in his arms.
An anguished scream came from behind the barricade as a woman rushed toward Superman. The woman grabbed her child and fell to the ground, her body violently shaking. Clark could say nothing.
Finally, Superman reached down and picked both the woman and child up, carrying them to the waiting ambulance. "I'm sorry," he managed, but the woman only held her lost baby, unaware of anyone else, her low soulful wail filling the air.
With a strangled heart, Superman rose to the heavens, his own tears freely falling into the sky.
He hovered in the clouds, masking himself from the world. The purple twilight was becoming grey with storm clouds. Clark contemplated the upcoming summer storm. He wondered if the gods would roar with torrents of rain or if the angels would cry with warm showers tonight.
He floated, amassing all of his emotions and screaming his grief to the stars.
With his pain spent and frustration vented, Clark looked through the miles of city to one building. One window. Lois's window.
The apartment was dark. She had gone to meet with Celia Ali.
In an instant, Clark made a decision. He flew at the speed of light. A reddish blue blur passed the LexAir planes bound for the Metropolis International Airport.
Charlie leaned back in his chair, twirling his key ring. "The graveyard shift," he muttered to himself. After five years of working for Luthor Securities, taking every flea-bitten assignment, he should have got that promotion to guard the AM Complex. He would be there now if it hadn't been for Superman. Because of Mr. Steely Pants, that cushy gig was history.
Superman always had to stick his nose in other people's business. "That goody-two-boots," Charlie grumbled, turning on the small
black and white television perched on top of the security console. He flipped the channels, stopping on an old 'Batman' re-run.
One little incident in the park, and now he was pulling the graveyard shift at the marina. He would have to talk to someone in the Union about this.
The lavender sky that had served as Superman's sanctuary was replaced with menacing black clouds. The boats in Troy Marina swayed in the dark harbor, banging against the pier. Celia Ali sunk behind a motor yacht and pointed in the direction of the Sultan. "They're here," she whispered.
Jared stood on the hull, looking out into the night. His face matched the night's stormy front. He frowned into the water as though angry with it. Only when a light filtered onto his face from the cabin did his expression change; he reached down, bringing Ka into his arms.
Celia breathed deeply.
The wind picked up, rocking the boat into the dock. Jared carried his daughter into the cabin.
'Anyone with common sense would be safe in their homes, watching television,' thought Lois, hunkering down beside Celia. 'Unless you were me.' She sighed. 'Out here, without Clark, in the cold, about to commit a felony.'
Lois's thoughts began to ramble. She looked to the sky wishing for a streak of red and blue. The rumble of thunder in the distance gave the only sign of life. Lois's heart sank. Maybe this time, she had pushed Clark too far.
Lost in her thoughts, Lois was startled by a hand on her shoulder. She looked to Celia, who still was focused on the one light in the marina. Lois looked farther to her side and into the deepest brown eyes known to Earth — or, for all she knew — the Universe.
Clark kneeled beside her. He wore all black and a matching bandanna around his head with dark shaded glasses on the brim of his nose. He no longer resembled either Superman or Clark, but maybe a Hell's Angel. Only the strong jawline and soulful eyes remained the same.
Seeing recognition in her eyes, Clark pushed his glasses back into place. He squeezed her shoulder, squelching any fear Lois may have had of him being pushed too far.
Clark moved closer, making his presence known to Celia. Unmoved by his sudden appearance, Celia continued to stare hawk-eyed at her family aboard the cruiser. Lois whispered, inaudible to the human ear, the plan of attack. They were to wait until dinner was finished. Nana and Ka would go out on deck, while Jared checked the closing stock market prices. Apparently, Ali was a creature of habit, which explained his presence in the marina on such a god-awful night.
Celia had said that the family dined on the boat every Tuesday in the summer, sun or rain. Nana would return to the cabin, supposedly to get Ka a warmer jacket. While she was gone, they would liberate Ka.
Clark nodded his understanding. He still was unhappy being involved, but the memory of the fallen woman at the day-care center steeled his conviction. Superman was the champion of truth and justice, but Clark was a man. A man that understood life was messy. Maybe Superman couldn't stand behind this mission, but Clark could stand behind his woman.
Clark swept the area with his super-vision. Everything seemed in order, other than them skulking in the dark.
Finishing his patrol, he settled his gaze on Jared's boat. Nana and Ka came out onto the stern. A moment later, Nana walked back in, leaving Ka alone.
Celia darted down the dock, leaving Lois and Clark to scramble behind her. She climbed over the hull, grabbing her baby into her arms. "Mommy," escaped the girl's lips before being buried in a bear hug.
A shadow fell onto the reunion. "Celia," Jared spoke coldly. He stood in the doorway with Nana cringing in his grasp.
Celia stood up, allowing Ka to stand by her side. "Jared."
The tension in the air was palpable. Neither Lois nor Clark dared to move. "You shouldn't have come here, Celia." The light of the cabin filtered onto Ali's face. The muscle in his jaw throbbed and his nostrils flared.
"You shouldn't have killed Kevin," Celia spat. Their eyes clashed and sparks flashed as a bolt of lightning filled the sky.
The glint of a .33 caliber pistol caught Clark's eye. He stepped towards Ali, but not before Ka broke loose and scampered from her mother to Nana.
"Walk away, Celia. Find yourself another life."
"Another life?" she yelled over the rising wind. "What life, you bast—?" The final word was lost in a crack of thunder.
Nana mustered all her strength and shoved Jared into the doorframe. Sweeping Ka into her arms, Nana ran to Celia. Clark seized the opportunity and pounced on Jared, knocking the armed man back into the wall.
"Daddy!" Ka screamed.
Distracted by the child's cry, Clark caught a foot in the groin. Clark stumbled back a step, more out of surprise than pain. Unfortunately, that one step was all that Ali needed to aim and pull the trigger.
The sound evaporated into incomprehensible silence.
Lois whirled toward the direction of the shot. Despite knowing Clark could not be hurt, she searched his body for a wound. Nothing. Relief was short-lived. All the blood drained from her face as Nana crumpled to the ground.
Clark crunched the smoking pistol, tossing it to the side. He rushed to attend the older woman's wound. Celia fell to her knees, crying out her mother's name.
Slipping across the deck, Lois ran to Ka. 'Please, God, she thought, 'let this work out.'
At the same time, Jared grabbed the child's arms. They each pulled until the little girl screamed in pain. Startled, Jared let go.
Surprised by the sudden lack of resistance, Lois and Ka reeled over the rail. Lois gasped in pain. The cold water stung like a dozen knives.
"Ka!" Lois yelled frantically. The black waves pushed against her, choking her breath. She listened for a reply, but the harbor gave no answer. 'This is not happening,' she thought, struggling to keep her head above water. An angry wave washed over her head. Sputtering, she resurfaced. Fear grabbed at the tendrils of her courage. Where was Ka?
Lois thrashed around, searching. Then she heard something. A cry? No, it was a male howl. She looked up. 'Clark! her mind screamed, but her water-filled lungs choked her plea. This was not the way things were supposed to be, she thought, watching Jared hurtling toward her. Frozen by disbelief. she listened to the sound of her neck crunching and her ears popping under the weight of his body.
Clark glared across the boat. There was no sign of Jared, Ka or Lois. Lois! Insane panic swelled in his belly. He rushed with super-speed to the stern. Jared floated, Ka tucked under his arm. But no Lois.
He listened for the familiar pattern of her heart, but could not hear over Celia's shrieking. Clark felt a bit like shrieking himself. "Lois!" he yelled.
Clark scanned the cabin — no sign of his partner. There was, however, something *else* that caught his attention. He turned to Celia. "Get off this boat, now!" he screamed. With that said, Clark hopped over the railing.
Ka shivered under her father's arm. She looked around the dark room he had entered. It had TVs and a big, sleeping man in a chair. Ka's teeth chattered uncontrollably. "Daddy, I'm cold," she whimpered.
"Hang on, baby. Daddy has got to find some keys."
The man who was snoring in a chair shifted, dropping the keys in his hand. Jared put Ka down and crawled under the man's chair to get the keys.
"Shhh." Jared stood, pocketed the keys and picked her back up. Jared stared at the security console. Ka followed her father's gaze at the flickering television screens.
"Mommy." The girl squirmed to get a better view of the monitors. She could see her mommy carrying Nana over her shoulder, climbing off of the boat.
A blinking light caught Ka and Ali's attention.
"A tape, Daddy."
The blinking 'no cassette' sign flashed across the screen. A videotape popped out of a slot in front of Ka. She reached to pick it up, but her father was quicker.
"Okay, honey. You stay right here." Ka stood in the boathouse doorway while Jared tried the various keys to the van door lock. Ka turned to watch TV.
'Where is Clark?' Lois thought, looking around. Where was anybody? She tried to open her mouth to call for her man, but she couldn't get her mouth to form his name. Frustrated, she tried again. She tried to reach out, but her arms were too heavy. 'God, I work out in the gym for hours and I am too weak to move my arms,' she thought incredulously. 'I need a trainer.' She tried again to move, but it was too hard. 'Open your eyes,' she told herself. They were glued shut. She strained, but nothing. A dark' shadowy doom began to fill her. 'Oh God, Oh God, Oh God,' she panicked.
"Lois!" Clark screamed. The waves crashed against him. "Lois!" His anguished cry broke against the wind. With no answer, Clark dove under the water. He attuned his vision to the murky depths of the harbor. For what seemed an eternity, he was greeted only by darkness. Why? Why had he let her do this? 'Because, if she asked, you'd follow her to the other side of the moon,' his inner voice answered.
A shadowy feeling of doom crept over him. Seaweed, fish, broken bits of boats, but no spunky reporter. What if he couldn't find her? The doubt mushroomed as he swept the harbor floor.
Clark swam under the dock, fearing Lois was entangled in loose ropes. Relieved not to find her there, he pushed himself further out. Maybe she had been swept away by the undercurrent.
Clark's heart skipped a beat, spying her limp body about a thousand yards away. Lois was sinking fast. Unconscious, she fell like a stone beneath the storm.
Tunneling through the current at breakneck speed, Clark brought Lois back to the surface. Walking on water, he climbed onto the dock. He laid her motionless body next to Nana. "Lois," Clark stammered. He covered her lips with his own. 'Breathe,' he begged silently.
He stopped and looked into her pale face. "Lois. Wake up, Lois," he cried urgently, repositioning his mouth on hers.
Celia watched in terror, holding her mother's own stone body. "Clark…" she began. But Clark did not hear Celia. All of his senses were focused on the woman before him. She lay disturbingly still. "Nooo!" he roared to the thundering clouds above. He pulled her body closer. The sky angrily rumbled its reply.
"Lois," Clark's voice quivered, "Please, Lois." He breathed into her lungs desperately. Unable to pull her body any closer, he rocked her in his arms, hot tears spilling from his eyes to her cheeks. "I need you," he whispered softly.
'Clark,' Lois's mind whispered. There he was. She could hear him. Boy, where had he been? Didn't he know that she was dying? 'Clark, I'm dying,' she thought. 'Take care of my fish.
'My fish's name is… My fish's name is…' Darn, this was no time to forget the name of her fish. She was dying, didn't she know? 'My fish's name is…' Lois's body shuddered. She began to cough, water spilling down her face. "Ka…"she moaned. 'No, that's not my fish's name,' she thought.
Clark looked into her face in disbelief. "Lois?" he questioned excitedly.
Slowly, Lois's surroundings began to take shape. She could feel the ache in her arms and the pain in her throat. She could also feel the warmth of another body. "Clark," she croaked.
"I'm right here. I'm right here." Clark silently thanked the heavens for giving her back to him.
Yes, it was him. His warmth began to envelope her body. Oh, this was much better than before. Before… What was she doing before? Quickly the image of a little girl emerged through her dreamy state.
"Clark! Lois's eyes flew open. "Where's Ka?"
The name rang in Clark's ears. In his panic, he had allowed Jared to get away. He quickly scanned the marina, but there was no sign of the child. "I don't see her."
Clark looked towards Celia and her mother, both soaked in blood. He listened. The faintest heartbeat struggled in the crippled woman's body. Without a word, he gently kissed Lois's cheek and moved towards Nana.
If Celia had glanced in the reporters' direction, she would have been witness to a powerful metamorphosis. Fortunately for Clark, Celia learning his identity wasn't in the cards that evening. Before Celia could object, Superman picked Nana into his arms and rose into the sky.
The two women on the dock watched silently. One watched in adoration, the other confusion— Where did Superman come from? Then the night shattered.
Lois did not know what happened first. As Superman flew off, a streak of lightning filled the sky. Torrents of rain fell in its wake. The sound of thunder clapped, but it was masked by a more immediate explosion.
Lighting the sky, the cabin exploded. Bits of glass and wood showered the docks.
Lois and Celia curled into balls, arms over their heads trying to shelter themselves from the flaming debris.
Lois cursed herself, promising to listen to Clark from now on.
Jimmy peered out his windshield into the storm. "Ahh, man. I hope this rain doesn't foul up the Chief's flight." He checked his watch. "I've got time."
Jimmy cruised up the short-term parking ramp. He stopped for his time-stamped ticket. "Oh, shoot," he muttered to himself, patting his pockets. He pulled out a piece of gum and a few dimes and nickels.
"Great, Olsen," Jimmy chided himself. Why was it that there was always change strewn everywhere until he needed it? Jimmy parked his car and reached in between the seats. He pulled his camera bag to the front. "I know I've got some change in here somewhere." Jimmy looped his trusted 35mm around his neck. You could never be sure when a photo-op would present itself. He dug in the many pockets of the bag and shook several film dispensers. The third canister jingled. Jimmy smiled, satisfied.
Jimmy got out of his car and crossed the parking garage to the elevator. He stepped onto the elevator and pushed 'Terminal A'. A dark-haired, curvy, uniform-clad woman stepped in beside him.
"Terminal A, please." She smiled, openly eyeing the young man beside her.
Jimmy raised his eyebrows in interest. "Are you a stewardess?"
"Sorry — flight attendant." Jimmy rocked back and forth on his heels, eyeing the woman.
"That's okay." The attendant bit her bottom lip.
'Wow,' thought Jimmy, 'This is a number that I *have* to get.' Sure enough, as the doors opened, Jimmy slipped a piece of paper into his jacket pocket. The brunette smiled and said goodbye, hurrying down the pedestrian runway. Jimmy gawked after her, thanking his lucky stars. He stepped off of the elevator, searching the flight information monitors. Perry's flight was on time.
Ka shivered in the darkness. She curled herself into a ball, trying to find some warmth. The vinyl seat of the van offered little comfort. "Ugh," she gurgled, falling against the door as her father made a sharp turn.
Ka could hear the sound of sirens in the background. She glanced at her father. He had a familiar look in his eyes. The same look he had the night Ka had last seen Uncle Kevin. She cowered further into the seat with tears sliding down her cheeks.
"Baby, don't cry." Jared whispered, covering her body with one hand and rocking her back and forth. "Don't cry, sweetheart. We are going to take a trip."
Her daddy's hand was warm, but it made Ka shiver more. Tears continued to puddle in the cracks of the plastic seat.
"Chief!" Jimmy shouted.
Perry White disembarked from the plane and headed out of the gate. Jimmy stood smiling like an excited son. 'A son,' Perry thought. Jimmy was closer to him than his own sons. He waved back. "Jimmy, good to see you. Hope you didn't have a hard time in this weather."
"Oh, no. It was fine. I'm glad your flight came in on time."
"Yeah, it was a bit bumpy up there, but we just beat the major storm system. Any later and I'da had to wait another day." Perry wiped his brow in mock relief. "Getting off that plane is like standing in a line to Graceland. It takes forever, but once you're through, it's like the holy land." Perry laughed at his own humor.
"Well, I managed to make use of the time." Jimmy gave a devilish raise of his eyebrows and patted his shirt pocket.
"Stewardess?" Perry asked, catching Jimmy's drift.
"Flight attendant, Chief," Jimmy corrected.
"Well, la-de-da…" Perry slapped Jimmy on the back.
"You got bags, Chief?"
"Yeah, Jimmy, all I've got here in this carry-on is a toothbrush; a book by my old source, Sore Throat; and a video of Alice's family at the wedding. Oh boy, Jimmy, I've got to show you some of these people. All I can say is, they are *Alice's* people."
Jimmy stepped onto the escalator, looking down into the baggage claim area. "It looks crowded down there," he observed.
"Better hang on to your wallet, Jimmy. This kind of crowd is just asking for trouble."
Perry did not know how right he was.
"Baggage Claim," Jared murmured, pushing into the growing crowd around the bag carousel.
Wrapped in her father's arms, Ka knocked against bony arms and overstuffed bags as her father pushed through streams of people. He growled, quickly frustrated with the crowd. "Ow!" she cried, banging into a large, heavy-set man.
"Sorry, baby. Just hang on. I just have to get to the training hangar." Ka leaned into his shoulder, stifling another cry. She watched the bags go round and round.
As more bags appeared on the conveyor belt, people squeezed closer, making escape impossible.
"Urrh!" Jared growled again, swinging wildly. The people closest to him sprawled to the floor. "Move!" he shouted, pushing further into the crowd.
"Hey, hey. Slow down, Ace." Perry tried to edge away from Jared, but the older man could not move quickly enough. Jared elbowed him in the side.
"Hey," Jimmy stepped in. "Watch yourself, man."
Jared connected with Jimmy's jaw.
Perry grabbed Jared's shoulder, pulling him away from Jimmy. Pulling out of Perry's grip, Jared stepped again toward the stunned Jimmy. Jimmy punched Jared squarely in the nose, toppling both his target and his boss onto the rolling conveyor belt.
Freed from her father's hold, Ka lay listlessly against Perry's strewn carry-on bag.
Jared struggled to stand, kicking and twisting in luggage straps. "Urrgh. Get off me!" he cried in frustration. Jared shoved his hand down his soggy boot, producing a thin blade. He held it to the fallen Perry's ear, pressing the dazed man's head to the floor.
"Oh, sweet Priscilla," Perry exclaimed.
Jimmy climbed onto the carousel as the threatened Chief disappeared behind the flaps of the luggage door.
A gust of wind blew across the terminal.
Before Perry could thank Elvis, Superman swooped through the small door. With a feather-light touch, he thumped the armed man in the forehead.
Jimmy sighed in relief as the crazed stranger reappeared, slumped against a duffel bag, unconscious. The airport police rushed to the scene, taking Ail into custody. Jimmy poised his camera for a front page shot.
"Thank you, Superman," Perry said, brushing off his pants.
"No, thank *you*, Mr. White. Jimmy." Clark nodded his appreciation.
"No problem, Superman," Jimmy beamed, rubbing his sore jaw.
Clark cuddled Ka into his arms. She shook uncontrollably against him as she sized his large frame up with a critical eye. But, too tired to question, she leaned her head onto his shoulder. Clark listened to her heartbeat. It was too fast for his liking, but she would be okay. He pulled her away to look into her eyes. She stared, pleadingly into his own. "Let's go find your mommy."
Ka gave the most innocent of smiles.
Clark shot into the air, smiling as the girl squeezed his neck for dear life. "It's okay, sweetie. You are going home." Clark wrapped his cape around her.
Perry and Jimmy watched the Man of Steel fade into the stormy sky. Jimmy's camera flashing until there was nothing left to see. "Jimmy, I hope you didn't have plans. We've got a story to get into the morning edition. It's been a while since I've had a by-line. What do you say we share this one?"
Jimmy forgot his sore jaw. "You got it, Chief."
Charlie moved to the side of the dock, making room for the ambulance stretchers.
The two women who had been found on the dock both insisted they were all right. If you asked Charlie, they didn't look all right. One was soaked in blood and cried endlessly. The emergency technicians gave her a sedative. The other looked like she had swum the English Channel, but she pushed the ambulance attendants away when they attempted to check her out.
It was the second one that held his attention. Charlie wondered if he should offer her his jacket or something but, by the way she was treating all the police and other people, he thought it best to leave her alone. He watched the little lady watch the emergency crew put out the fire. She didn't move out of their way or offer to tell what had happened. She just stood quietly in the rain.
Moments later, Superman floated down beside the stubborn lady. Charlie watched as the woman moved for the first time since refusing any help. She buried her head into the Big Guy's chest. Neither of the two seemed aware of the people milling around them.
Charlie wondered if the woman had been waiting for the flying man all along. He watched as Superman scooped the small woman into his arms and flew into the rain. Charlie nodded his head, a decision firmly made in his head. "Oh yeah, I want the day shift," he muttered.
"Do you want some tea?"
Lois had been silent on the trip home. Clark had assumed it was because of the rain. It was much too difficult to speak with torrents of water slapping you in the face. Of course, he hadn't needed her to speak. He just needed to hold her..
He stepped into Lois's apartment. Puddles of water formed at his feet.
"You can shower if you want. We both smell kind of fishy," Lois said, flashing a brief smile.
"All right," Clark said, putting her down. He detached his cape and moved towards the bedroom.
"The sweatshirt and boxers that I borrowed the other night are on my dresser."
"The sweatshirt is yours," he called from the bedroom.
"No, it's your sweatshirt," she assured him, putting the water on to boil.
"No, I'm saying you can have it. The shorts, too… but I'll need them for the moment. I left my other clothes at the dock."
'I bet you have clothes all over this city,' Lois thought. "Okay. Hurry up, so I can take a shower too."
"Oh, you can take one first," he offered.
"No, go ahead. You're quicker than me," she answered. She wanted to suggest they take the shower together, but Lois imagined Clark would frown on that, him being the poster boy for the boy scouts and all.
"Well, I'll make some soup when you take your shower," he called out.
"I can do that."
"No, it'll give me something to do when you're in here."
Lois listened to Clark turn on the water. She sat on a stool at her kitchen counter and laid her head on folded arms. All of a sudden, her eyelids were very heavy. "I'll just rest my eyes while I wait for the water," she muttered to herself.
When Clark walked into the kitchen, Lois was snoring quietly. "Lois?" Clark whispered, a cup in his hand.
"Hmmm, what? Did I fall asleep?"
"You dozed a little." He kissed her cheek. "Go take your shower. I'll steep your tea."
"Okay, but I don't want any soup. I'd rather have a sandwich." Lois walked into the bathroom, devising a plan in her mind.
When she emerged, a sandwich and tea were on her coffee table. "I want to eat in the bedroom. We can turn the TV on there." She moved her food to her bedside table, picked up the remote control and turned to LNN. She hoped no disasters would be reported in the next few hours.
There were none. Lois decided that the gods or angels or Elvis, himself, must have been listening to her thoughts and approved.
Save for the skeleton crew, the Planet was bare.
"Hey, Chief, do you mind if I pop in your video? I'd like to see you with your in-laws."
"Jimmy, if you're looking for some dirt for the gossip mill around here, you can forget it."
"Ahh, c'mon, Chief."
"Go ahead. Maybe you'll get a couple of laughs out of it," Perry said, giving in.
Jimmy slid the tape into the videocassette recorder. He waited expectantly. A grey, sketchy image appeared. He squinted at the screen. "Ahh, Chief… I think you should take a look at this."
Perry, stood in front of the television, squinting with Jimmy. "What in the Sam Hill is this?"
The two men watched in bewilderment as three shadowy figures climbed onto a boat. "Jimmy, where did you get this tape?"
"I got it out of your bag."
"Yeah. After Superman swooped down and all of that, I put your videos back in your bag. They fell out when Ali knocked you down." Jimmy rubbed his jaw, grimacing at the recent memory.
"Jimmy, this is not my tape."
Lightning struck and the shadowy faces lit in the night. Jimmy blinked once, twice— three times— but the figures on the screen did not change. "Chief, is that..?" Jimmy asked, pointing in disbelief.
Perry rubbed his face out of his own incredulity before confirming Jimmy's unfinished inquiry. "Lois and Clark," he answered.
Lois stretched in her bed. Clark sat cross-legged on the floor, resting his head on her midsection. She lay, absorbing the softness of the quilt and taking a deep breath. Clark's natural clean scent filled the air. She breathed in again, trying to describe it to herself. It was comfortingly sweet like fresh baked cookies. Umm, cookies.
Lois stroked her fingers through his wet hair, watching the shadows of the rain dance on the ceiling. The sound of weary travelers passing in the night crept through a cracked window in the room. Both stayed still, enjoying the noise of tires sloshing in the wet streets below. They listened to the thunder roar and to each other's breathing.
After a few minutes, Clark turned his head to see into Lois's face. The dim light of the bedside lamp caressed her beauty. He pulled onto his knees to see into her eyes, They seemed far and away, farther than he could fly at that moment. He hesitated to bring her back to where he sat
Lois could see his model profile out of the corner of her eye, but she did not stir. She closed her eyes and listened to him move. She opened her eyes again and entangled her fingers in his, pulling his arm to encircle her waist.
'He must be floating,' she thought, as Clark's entire form came into view. She eased beneath him and wrapped her leg around his waist, willing him closer to her. He settled his weight on his elbows not wanting to crush her. Lois reveled in the warmth and weight of his body.
Clark readjusted his body, so as to see into her eyes. He could lose himself in those dark pools of brown. In fact, he would gladly jump off any diving board to land in those eyes. "Am I too heavy?" he asked, still thinking of belly-flops.
"No, you are just right," Lois whispered, craning her neck from her pillow to nibble on his ear. Slowly, he returned the favor along the small curve of her neck.
"Clark?" She pulled his face to hers suddenly. "Were we wrong? Was I wrong?"
Clark touched her lips with his own, taking a moment to conceive an answer. "Yes and no." He repositioned himself on his elbows. He could see the troubled look in his girlfriend's eyes. He wanted so badly to remove the worry, but he also needed to be honest.
"It's not something that I would ever want to do again. And I cannot say I walked away feeling good about myself, really. But Celia has Ka and Jared is in jail for shooting Celia's mother. I don't know if they are going to be able to make the Macmaster charge stick. Ka might be too young."
Clark bit his lip. He did not want to be discussing all of the sordid details of this last adventure at this precise moment. He wanted to just hold her. To forget how close he had come to losing her. Things could have turned out so differently. A cold chill ran down his spine with the thought.
"Too young," Lois repeated. For some reason, it hadn't occurred to her that the child's testimony might not be considered credible.
"Ka is too young to be able to testify. Three is too young for *any* of this," Clark remarked. He sighed, remembering the look on the girl's face when he handed her back to her mother at the hospital.
Celia had taken her daughter into her arms and fallen to the ground, crying. The scene had been startlingly similar to the one at the day-care center earlier. At first, he had been frightened that Celia had fainted and was crushing Ka, but eventually the woman had smiled at him through her tears. Unlike earlier, he had given a mother joy instead of grief.
Clark thought about the injured woman who was struggling for life at Luthor Memorial. He hoped that Ka's grandmother would survive. She has sustained critical damage to her chest. He didn't know all of the details, but he did know it was going to be touch and go for the older woman.
Lois touched his face again, bringing Clark's thoughts back to her. He slid to her side, propping his head on one hand. "We took a child away from her father. He was horrible to the rest of the world, but he loved his daughter. I worry that we pushed him too far."
"What do you mean?" Lois propped herself on her elbows.
"I mean, I believe he killed Macmaster. I do. But we can't be sure of that, and I know that if anyone was trying to take *my* child away, I would do everything I could to prevent that from happening."
"Clark, are you *defending* him?" she asked, her voice dangerously close to outrage.
"Lois, I am not a father. Although, believe me, I hope to be one day." Lois blushed under his gaze. "But it seems to me that Jared's biggest crime was that he loved his daughter too much. The strongest force in his life was his obsession with his daughter."
"So, you're saying *we* made him dangerous?"
"I am saying that I do not feel good about our part in all of this."
Lois snuggled back into her pillow. Any indignation was forgotten. "I thought I would, Clark. I thought I was striking out against the world — against the injustices so easily dealt to women. I really believed that. I jumped right up on my soap box, and almost died in the process." She stared into his loving eyes. "Regardless of the way everything happened, I am glad that Ka is safe with her mother."
Lois closed her eyes and rubbed her temples.
"You'd think. No, I'm just feeling a little overwhelmed."
"Do you want a massage or something?"
While the offer was tempting, she declined. "No, I just need to think of something pleasant." Lois conjured her imaginary son, safe in her arms, lying between her and Clark. She felt tingly with the thought and rolled into the curve of Clark's arm, resting her head on his biceps.
"Shhh, I have an image." She snuggled closer to him.
"The police are going to want to talk to us."
"I lost my image." Lois said deflated, opening her eyes. Cocking her head, she gave him an annoyed look for destroying her fantasy. "Why are you dredging up reality, Clark?"
It was Clark's turn to sigh. " It could get rough. We did, after all, attempt a felony."
If it had been any other person, Lois would have been dealt an onslaught of I-told-you-so's, but that was not Clark's style. He wouldn't berate her, even if he was angry. Remorse edged into her thoughts. "I'm sorry, Clark."
"You followed your heart, Lois. And Ka is going to be all right."
The nagging weight in her chest pushed her next question to her lips. "But are we?" she asked softly, hooking one long leg in the cradle of Clark's knees.
He shifted, freeing his hands to roam her smooth curves. "I will do everything in my power."
Lois wasn't sure he was answering the right question. "But are we okay?" She put her hand on his chest.
Clark leaned into a deep embrace. Feeling her stiffen from lack of air, he lifted his head. "We are okay," he mumbled, burying his head in her hair.
Lois clung to his chest and rocked him onto his back. Sitting up, she straddled his waist. "Forever?"
"Forever." Clark brushed her hair from her face and pulled her to him. Lois covered his mouth and drew in his breath.
"Why do you stay with me, Clark?" she asked, breathless.
He roamed her body with his eyes guiding his gaze with his hands. He gave her a mischievous grin. "Because you have a great body."
"Clark!" Lois laughed in mock offense.
She slid back to his side, entangling her legs with his. "I love you, Lois Lane. And I would go to the ends of the earth and beyond for you." The warmth of his breath made her toes tingle.
"Would you stay with me tonight?" she whispered so softly that only Superman would be able to hear.
"Lo-is," Clark said, arching an eyebrow.
"To *sleep*, Clark." She rolled her eyes. "I just want to have you near me."
She appeared to be sincere. No man would suspect that round-eyed expression that Lois was flashing him now, but appearances were only skin deep. Clark could see through Lois's innocent facial cast. He highly doubted that if he spent the night with her, that either of them would get much sleep.
Lois held her breath. She expected a gentle, but firm 'no'. Clark disentangled his legs and sat up. Lois pouted. He *was* going to play the boy scout.
He reached over and turned off the bedside lamp.
"Ohhh," Lois cooed, giggling in the dark.
"Chief, what are you going to say?" Jimmy peered out of Perry White's office window at Lois and Clark. Neither of them seemed to be acting strangely. Clark was on the phone and Lois was tapping furiously at her keyboard.
"Jimmy, I'll take care of this," the Chief muttered gruffly.
Perry and Jimmy had been up all night. Jimmy had developed the pictures from the airport, while Perry had been chasing details down on Ali's arrest. Apparently, he and Jimmy had unknowingly helped thwart Ali's escape attempt after a domestic dispute gone haywire.
The story had seemed shaky, as though there was more. But, one way or another, it was front page stuff with Jimmy's pictures of the man in tights. Perry thought he would put Lois and Clark on any follow-up story. That is, if he could learn the truth about their own involvement with the case. He had some feelers out. He would know the truth shortly.
The phone rang. Jimmy picked up. "Perry White's office. Who may I say is calling?" He looked bewildered. "Chief, someone here says he has the lozenge to your sore throat. I didn't know you had a cold."
Lozenge? It could only be his source, Sore Throat, on the other end of the line. He would get down to the bottom of this little mystery now. Sore Throat knew people's business before they knew themselves. Himself included. Perry took the phone. "Get me some doughnuts, will ya?" he asked Jimmy.
The question was more of a command than a request, Jimmy knew. He twisted his face in disappointment. He didn't want to miss anything, but he understood the Chief's dismissal. "Sure."
He walked deliberately past Lois and Clark. "Hey, you guys do anything interesting last night? Clark? Lois?"
Both smiled sheepishly. That wasn't the reaction Jimmy had been expecting. Obviously, Lois and CK had engaged in some unmentionable activity that he *didn't* know about. He raised his eyebrows.
"Not much, Jimmy," Lois answered off-handedly. "We watched a little television. But it looks like you got into a bar brawl. What happened?"
Jimmy gently touched the bruised side of his face. "The other guy is in worse shape, believe me." He smiled, settling himself on the edge of Clark's desk. "I was at the airport…"
"Uh-hmm!" Jimmy looked to Perry, who had cleared his throat. "Doughnuts, Jimmy."
"Doughnuts," Jimmy confirmed, taking the hint. He quickly disappeared into the elevator.
"Need a sugar fix, Chief?" Clark asked smiling.
Perry did not return the grin. "Lois, Clark, a moment of your time, please." Perry walked back to his office.
Clark looked at Lois. He pulled his mouth into a silent 'Uh-oh'. They were in trouble and they knew it. Nervously, Clark stood. It was true that mild-mannered Clark was the strongest man to walk the earth, but he was always nervous when on the bad side of the lovable, but formidable, Perry White.
A copy boy from across the room yelled his name. "Hey, Clark, line two. Inspector Henderson."
"Meet you there," Clark said.
Lois looked at her partner like he had lost his mind. "I am *not* going in there by myself. I'll wait for you." She took Jimmy's place on Clark's desk.
"Kent here. A bomb? Baby Rage? Yes, we are familiar with his work. Thank you, Inspector."
Clark hung up the phone. He turned to look at Lois's questioning brow. "Apparently, the Sultan blew up because our old friend, Baby Rage, planted a bomb."
"Baby Rage?" Lois looked confused.
"You remember, the guy who tried to incinerate your Uncle Mike's restaurant for Intergang."
"*That's* who he is. I knew I recognized the caterer from somewhere. Clark, Baby Rage was the guy who interrupted our interview with Ali yesterday. I thought he looked familiar, but I figured I had seen him at one of the rubber chicken dinners that we've had to attend."
"Well, apparently, Rage was picked up a few blocks from the marina. He had all the makings of a crude bomb in the back seat of his car. Obviously, Baby didn't grow any from his last experience."
"Do the police know why he wanted to blow up Ali?"
"Ali owed Rage some money for a job that he'd done. I bet you'll never guess what the job was."
"To kill Celia Ali."
"No, but close. Ali hired Rage to get rid of Kevin Macmaster's body."
"Get out of here!" Lois pushed Clark, out of disbelief.
Unprepared for the force, Clark fell back into his chair. "What are you doing? Going to the gym?" he laughed.
"I have to keep up with you somehow," she chuckled. "So Rage confessed?"
"Made a deal with the District Attorney."
"I should have known," she remarked dryly. The DA's office handed out plea bargains like balloons at a circus. "But, at least now, Ali will go on trial for Macmaster's murder."
"Are you two done? Because if you are," Perry snapped across the news room, "I want to see you, *now*!"
Lois and Clark jumped. The city room grew quiet. Everyone watched as Perry's pet reporters skulked into his office. Jimmy who was stepping off of the elevator with a box in his hands, joined the curious watchers.
"Close the door." Perry motioned, sitting behind his desk. Clark did as he was told, taking his place beside Lois in the hot seat. "Is there something the two of you want to tell me."
Lois felt her stomach flip-flop. Why was Perry asking them if they wanted to tell him anything. What did he know? "No, Chief," she lied. She hated lying to Perry, but she couldn't very well tell him that she and Clark had been attempting an abduction the night before. He couldn't have been hinting at that, anyway. *Could* he?
"Uh-uh," Clark agreed with her, shoving his hands in his pockets like a little boy.
"Are you sure there is nothing you want to get off your chest— uh, chests?" Perry asked again, moving to stand in front of the two. He folded his arms across his chest. The crossed arms vaguely reminded Clark of his father when it was time for a stern talking to.
The reporters looked at each other, guilt-stricken. Lois cracked first. "We'd like to tell you, Chief, but we can't."
Was that her that had spoken? she wondered. She hadn't meant to open her mouth. She looked wide-eyed at Clark.
"You are better off not knowing, Chief," Clark added cautiously.
Perry chuckled. "Well, it's a little late for that. I know."
"You know?" Lois asked aghast.
"What do you mean, you know?" Clark asked suspiciously. He was not going to confess unless Perry proved that he really did know that they had been involved in last night's events. Perry had a scary talent for knowing things, particularly secrets. Clark had often wondered if Perry knew about *his* secret. Clark would not put anything past his boss.
"You know," Perry gestured, "About, you know… your evening."
"So you do know!" Lois breathed. "How do you know?"
Perry looked serious. "It's better that you don't know. Of course, I don't know officially, but if a man in my position didn't know, I wouldn't be a man in my position," he nodded, knowingly.
Lois and Clark nodded as well, unsure of what they were agreeing to. "So, now that you know— unofficially," Lois looked anxiously at Clark, "are you going to tell anyone… that you know."
Perry looked at his best reporter with a twist of dismay. What kind of Dodo bird did Lois take him for? "No, I just wanted you to know that I know."
"Oh," Lois and Clark chorused, relieved.
"But if you ever compromise yourselves this way again, I don't want to know." Perry shook a rough finger. The relieved reporters' smiles faded fast. "Because if I do know, I'll skin your hides."
A knock at the door cut Perry's reprimand short. Jimmy stuck his head through the door. "Chief, there's a baby stuck in a well at Centennial Park."
"Lois, Clark — get on it!"
Thankful for the reprieve, the two zipped out of the office.
"So, Chief, what did they say?" Jimmy asked, closing the door behind him.
"Well, Jimmy, they didn't say much."
Jimmy did a little hop of frustration, as he watched the team scurry to get notepads off their desks. Clark hesitated. He pulled something out of his bottom drawer, but quickly put it back. Jimmy smiled, seeing Lois watch her partner. He knew what was in the little black box that Clark had been fingering.
"Chief," Jimmy turned around, "do you ever get the feeling we won't ever know the real story on those two?"
Perry knew exactly what Jimmy meant. Lois and Clark captured front page by-lines on a regular basis, but he knew his prize-winning investigative team were more than outstanding reporters. The life-threatening investigations, impassioned arguments and bizarre, nonsense excuses were just the tip of the iceberg. He would bet his autographed 'Elvis Live!' album that they could *be* the headline, any day of the week.
"Jimmy," Perry laughed, settling back into his chair, "with every great story reported, there remains an even greater one untold."